Jun 202019
 

Anaximander’s Adventuring Studies

This module clocks in at 75 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 4 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 65 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters.

 

This adventure is intended as an introductory adventure for the Scarthey setting that depicts a Harry Potter-esque magic academy; I have covered the basic setting assumptions in my review of the “Welcome to Scarthey”-supplement. It should be noted, though, that, while useful to have, said supplement is not required in order to run this adventure. All the respective components required to run this in a meaningful manner have been included within. This includes, but is not limited to, a representation of the overview map of Scarthey’s campus, which still doesn’t feature a scale to denote the actual dimensions of the massive magic academy.

 

The basic assumption of the adventure is that the PCs are invited/admitted to Scarthey as part of Adventuring Studies, a program that seeks to generate an efficient adventuring party. This process is roughly grouped into not a few weeks, but is intended to cover no less than three in-game years, with the players taking control of their PCs for key scenes, so no, you won’t have to micromanage complex school-day/social life calendars. (Come to think of it: That’d have been awesome for nerds like yours truly…) Anyhow, this focus on a long-term adventure is something I only rarely get to see, so this is indeed something I am excited to see how it is performed!

 

The module features read-aloud text for key-scenes, but not every encounter, and also sports side-bars that help contextualize things, and indeed, it is interesting to note that the summary of the fields of operations the module classifies characters in includes the occult classes – kudos for catching and rectifying this oversight of the original Scarthey supplement. Another thing I really loved: At the end of each year, we get an “End of Term”-Report, a pretty fancy-looking document that makes for a great handout! This also extends to a certain outsider contract and a final diploma, all of which get their own handouts. Going above and beyond the required here, this aspect really rocks. A fully-gridded one-page Undervault map has been included (an unlabeled version would have been nice), and the supplement features a couple of rather nice full-color, unlabeled battle-mat-style maps for more complex encounters. Story awards for roleplaying are noted throughout the adventure, which I something I definitely consider great.

 

Structurally, the module can thus be seen as a primarily event-driven sequence of happenstances that allow for a significant freedom when it comes to the implementation of when and how to modify a given encounter; one could also argue that the structure of the adventure lends itself rather well to poaching components from its pages.

 

All right, that is pretty much as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players of this adventure should jump ahead to the conclusion.

 

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All right, only GMs around? Great! After the introduction ceremony and welcoming speech of the Arcchancellor, the PCs will have a chance to mingle and become acquainted with the university grounds. Their dormitories are housed in the Undervaults, a massive series of caverns, with the armor of a once famous, nameless paladin acting as an appropriately magical guardian. The PCs are housed in the Octavius dormitory, so named for one of the university’s largest benefectors, and 4 adventurers to be are grouped per room to represent the four fields of operations. A concise list of fellow students, focused primarily on fluff-centric write-ups, but noting alignment, templates and classes if applicable, is provided as well, allowing an ambitious GM to potentially flesh out the class and fellow students in a Persona-like manner without much hassle – kudos here! Indeed, the PCs will have a nice candidate for the snobbish foil with the scion of the mighty Octavius clan, Kellin, being one of their fellow students – and yes, he does come fully statted. Oh, and his cronies? A gorgeous female and a halfing-sized slime-thing called Splish-splosh. Yes, this does embrace the magic-angle more than the “Welcome”-file did.

 

The PCs then will be undergoing a test (in which the best of them will be beaten by a hair’s breadth by Kellin) and then, they’ll be assigned to each other in a narrative conceit the module freely acknowledges to the GM, which I considered to be pretty refreshing. This would also be an excellent point in time to note that academic success is tracked throughout the module, with “Merits” making for a kind of currency and abstract measure of success. Further scenes deal with e.g. a guardian scroll trap left in the library to test the resourcefulness and mettle of PCs, and notes on the location where detention is held, and on a creature if the PCs wander off-limits – these are basically the global and intrdocutory floating scenes.

 

After these, we dive into the nit and grit of year 1, which includes scenes that encompass being attacked by a freed, animated rotating tumbler (in a class on, bingo, bypassing locks), trying to pass a trapped door. Defense class studies, pranks for breaking curfew that may or may not see the PCs outsmarted…and what about PCs being tasked to find the lost laundry building? Nope, that was no typo. The laundry building vanishes,  and it’ll be up to the PCs to deal with a mischievous, but not necessarily evil leprechaun!  Of course, dealing with their rivals and finally passing the exam should also be noted as steps that the PCs will have to succeed at on their way to becoming full-fledged adventurers! (As noted before – cool inclusion that we get an end-of-year document/certificate as a handout!)

Year 2 includes soup animating as oozes that need to be dealt with (surprisingly dangerous!), a brief “micro-dungeon” quest in the Undervaults to get the fully statted magical inkwell of the discipline’s founder at Scarthey (the eponymous Anaximander), and more – for example, the PCs will have to find a miniature phoenix on behalf of one of the deans: The critter is lavishly-illustrated and properly statted, including notes for use as a familiar! PCs (and players, if they’re new!) will learn to deal with swarms, and another test deals with first being afflicted with a curse, and then finding a way to undo it. Additionally, the PCs (and players) will learn to mind AoE-effects when e.g. attempting to secure fragile blossoms. The final exam is rather cool: The PCs are led into the forest, poisoned, and have to secure the eggs of a forest drake from a nearby cave-complex to get rid of the exotic poison.

 

During year 3, we have frost wights stalking the complex via obscure tunnels in the middle of summer vacations – and the PCs learn dealing with outsiders. This includes a smudged summoning circle and a devilish contract – the contract is reproduced, and indeed, the pdf goes so far as to provide not one, but two different addendums for PCs not so easily fooled by the devil’s clever contract – this was a really clever, well-executed version of the old trope. Kudos! During the PC’s time off, they may fight merrow on a lavishly-mapped beach, and then get their first underwater adventuring experience, if they play their cards right. A race to assemble an armor (nice mini-game). The PCs will also get to be paired with their (by now) loathed rivals in an encounter that features a smart badger, teaching cooperation once more.

 

The final exam of the class focuses on a sphere of annihilation that has appeared in a side tunnel, requiring the unearthing of a talisman…and as the PCs are briefed, the rector vanishes when tracing a curious rune – and right after that, dark folk assault from a secret door. The PCs will have a chance to save or leave Kellin to his fate – and ultimately find a secret study, where Anaximander, founder of the program and now a broken lich-thing bereft of his phylactery. Defeating the lich constitutes the end of the supplement and final exam – failure to do so does not result in death, though: Just in the requirement to repeat a year, as in that case, it turns out to be staged. Smart way to avoid frustration for new players!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the lavish and pretty impressive two-column full-color standard that made the first Scarthey-supplement such a joy to look at. The artworks are a great blending of perfectly fitting public domain and gorgeous full-color artworks. The cartography provides ranges from nice (encounter-maps) to okay (Undervault map), and the latter could have used a player-friendly version. It is my huge pleasure to announce that the Rising Phoenix crew learned from their mistakes – not only is the entire module studded with bookmarks that render navigation as comfortable as they should be, you can also highlight, copy and search the text, eliminating two serious gripes I had with the original Scarthey-supplement!

 

Jeffrey Swank delivers in spades in this module – not only is this long and could be deemed to be a sandbox of sorts that you can easily expand, it also does something I like: It teaches newbies the basics of adventuring…both PCs and players. The magical context ensures that veterans will have their fun as well, and indeed, personally, I consider this to be one of the best modules to introduce new players to Pathfinder – provided the GM knows what they are doing. The module does assume that the GM has some experience under their belt, and there may be modules that are easier to run. But as far as “teaching by doing” is concerned, this covers all the bases of the adventuring life. This, interestingly, generates a unity of themes between intent out-game and in-game, a notion I thoroughly enjoy. We also have the depth here that I was sorely missing from the “Welcome to Scarthey”-supplement – we learn about teaching methods, rivalries and the like, and the whole academy felt more vibrant and alive to me here. In short: This can be considered to be an impressive success, particularly since, unless I’m mistaken, this is the author’s first adventure.

 

It should, if the cool ideas and themes mentioned were not ample clue for you, also be noted that the module is appropriate for play with kids. While I probably would suggest it for ages 8+, there are serious differences between how sensitive kids are, so do take that with a grain of salt. This is a wholesome module that manages to capture the themes of rivalries and whimsy rather well. If there’s anything missing from this module, it’d have been nice to see scoring implemented a bit more thoroughly, and to have a player-friendly version of the Undervault. Bereft of any serious pieces of criticism beyond that, I will remain with a final verdict of 5 stars for this adventure, just short of my seal of approval. A grand step forward for Scarthey!

 

You can get this cool, unique adventure here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 202019
 

Advanced Adventures: Down the Shadowvein (OSR)

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review is part of a series of requests undertaken at the request of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

 

Okay, so, as always, this module is penned with the OSRIC rules in mind, but conversion to other OSR rulesets is relatively painless. As always, we don’t get read-aloud text herein, and there are a couple of formal differences from the formatting conventions that OSRIC employs, but these, for the most part, apply in a mostly consistent manner. Nominally intended for 6-10 characters of level 3- 5, the adventure is challenging, but mostly in a way that is contingent on how the PCs interact with the environments found and encountered. Attempting to murder-hobo through everything can and will get you killed here.

 

There is one more aspect you may need to be aware of: This module represents a taking up of a dangling thread from the very first Advanced Adventures-module, “The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom” and may be run as a direct sequel to said adventure; knowledge of the previous module is not required, and it is pretty easy to integrate this module into the context of any prolonged underworld campaign or exploration, whether they are mega-dungeon-based or subterranean sagas like AAW Games’ excellent Rise of the Drow campaign. This module also represents the first of two modules that expand the material based on the eponymous Shadowvein, with “The Mouth of the Shadowvein” representing the second adventure and conclusion of the exploration. The Shadowvein, fyi, is a subterranean river, a black ribbon of water illuminated by purple and green lichen, with tendrils of almost snot-like strands hanging from them – colloquially known as “faerie sputum” to those traveling its length.

 

From a genre-perspective, we have a pretty free-form sandbox here – a subterranean hexcrawl, which, cleverly, uses the subterranean river Shadowvein as a kind of red thread that the PCs may or may not follow. The module does a pretty neat job at depicting the differences regarding the environment and sandbox style play: For one, we not only get different random encounter tables, they differentiate between passage types: You see, the overland hexcrawl map knows primary, secondary and tertiary passages, with different encounters suggested for each. As a whole, this module takes place in the “civilized” region of the underworld, with settlements and outposts providing a reflection of social dynamics and paradigms one could theoretically encounter in the sunlit world as well – it takes place in the realms of drow cities, dwarven holds, etc. The weirder aspects, where society and civilization tend to fall apart and be replaced with the truly strange may be found in the sequel, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The encounter tables thus focus primarily on humanoids, with very few other critters thrown in.

 

This is not to say that there is no strangeness here, mind you: There would, for example, be a need breed of monster, the furnace worm, that consumes rock and excretes valuable metals contained within; we are introduced to the subterranean trade-race dubbed “Noja”, 3- 4 ft. small humanoids with a penchant for mischief and trickery – almost like trader-fey/gnome-crossovers if you will. Interesting: The females and males of the race can cast different spells. The noja act as a kind of linchpin for the other two creatures introduced – the undal being pack animals with weird crowns of horns that allow them to execute nasty charges, and the wyrdwolves, which are basically canine critters with the ability to make their eyes glow in a blinding strobe that can temporarily blind prey. The latter may not sound like much, but personally, I enjoyed them. Their presentation makes them strange, yet plausible enough. It’s also nice to see the umber hulk concept regarding canines executed with a pretty different flavor here.

 

Much to my joy, the module remembered the hook of the PCs finding a map of the Shadowvein – a SPOILER-free player’s map of the Shadowvein has been provided, and yep, it does not feature issues and indeed, has some areas where it’s less reliable. I always like that kind of thing – big plus for going the extra mile here.

 

This module contains a total of 5 different “zoom-in” adventure locales that the PCs following the Shadowvein may find, and the map leaves enough space for GMs to add their own modules and encounters, should they choose to. These individual locales do come fully mapped, but in the case of a few of them, it’s pretty likely that the PCs could attain a map of the region, with no player-friendly version provided. This represents a comfort-detriment for folks like yours truly that suck at drawing maps. It should also be noted that this adventure contains two new magic items, though both, in some way, do influence the narrative, so if you’re curious about them, please consult the next section.

 

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

 

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Okay, only GMs around? Great! The first lair to be found deals with a goblin tribe in the middle of internal strife – two months ago, chief and sub-chief killed each other, and indeed, there are currently two factions vying for control over the goblin tribe. As a nice change of pace, PCs who don’t want to murder-hobo through everything may find themselves recruited into a kind of mini-investigation that may see them uncover the truth about how the unique culture of this tribe, which includes ritual bathing [!!] of younglings, was weaponized for the coup-d’état that split the tribe into its current state. As is wont with such scenarios, outsiders like the PCs may well be recruited to end the semi-stalemate between factions.

 

The second encounter area has some nice horror/dark fantasy-tones: Once an outpost of loathsome bugbears, they have since then been slain by a magical disease that usually only affects those of giant stock, which is particularly likely for half-orcs and similar characters. Only two bugbears remain, both of whom have been transformed into strange horrors. Slaying them has the miasma turn into a kind of entity, which then proceeds to disperse. This scene, alongside the emptied caverns, actually managed to evoke an atmosphere we only rarely get to see executed so well, so kudos for that!

 

The third encounter area, a noja trading post, is a kind of neutral ground, enforced by a unique statue of a six-armed woman with serpentine lower bodies: The aura of peace makes hostilities here a superbly bad idea, and indeed, veterans may have gleaned that the statue is indeed a marilith – who is not happy about her cursed state. One of the encounter locations does include a magical item, the Tooth of Gorim Graal, which fortifies against fire, but also is the focus for the binding…which could result in a massacre if the PCs find it and proceed to ignore the warnings…and unleashed marilith will not be something the traders, noja, etc. can stop…

 

There is a similar connection between the penultimate encounter area and the last one – the second unique magic item included would be the Traveling Hammer of Dorin Graybeard, a mighty weapon sacred to dwarves, which, while providing powerful boons, does consume a percentage of the wearer’s treasure collected, and which doesn’t take kind to any bad treatment a dwarf may suffer from the wielder. Which is relevant, for, at one point, the PCs can happen upon a pretty massive dwarven hold that features a portcullis and toll bridge. Obviously, this region is also more focused on roleplaying than on killing everything, which is a nice change of pace.

 

The final encounter-location is easily by far the most deadly thing contained in the module – “The Snide Dungeon of the Mad Mage Hallach” is basically a gauntlet devised by a mad wizard, one studded with snarky and snide comments delivered via magical means. As such, the PCs and players are warned – this is not a complex to be trifled with, and any casualties are their own fault – well, they had to press onwards, didn’t they? As a gauntlet, it is exceedingly linear and intended as a challenge that requires genuine player skill to beat. It also is a wandering dungeon, that is, it will vanish if the PCs try to whittle it down via repeated sojourns, and could make for a pretty nice 4-hour convention slot game on its own. While challenging, and indeed, in some instances almost sadistic, it always remains fair…though the somewhat random white dragon boss at the end felt like a bit much to me. I just dislike dragons being used as random bosses, but this will not influence my final verdict, as it is part of my personal bias. Then again, the unique magic items noted can be found in its hoard, and the PCs that managed to get this far will have earned the loot.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, bordering on very good, on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ classic two-column b/w-standard, with a few decent b/w-artworks thrown in. The cartography does its job, and I really enjoyed the inclusion of a player-friendly map for the Shadowvein’s environments. It would have been nice to get player-friendly maps for the trade/social encounter areas at least, though. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Joseph Browning’s first part of the exploration of the Shadowvein is a nice subterranean sandbox; in contrast to previous hex-based explorations in the series like “Under Shattered Mountain”, it zooms in a bit more and provides some genuinely fun and diverse locations to visit. I would have enjoyed a few more quest-seeds regarding the respective areas – as written, the loot for the challenge-dungeon represents one of the few connecting components that tie the individual encounter locations together. If you’re looking for a trade route to include into your underworld, one that gets the aesthetics established in books like the ones dealing with a certain scimitar-wielding renegade right, then this delivers. I can see this work well in contexts beyond its system, and while it doesn’t reach the same level of mind-blowing awesomeness as some of the author’s other modules, it does represent a great little adventure. Now, personally, I’d have loved to see more encounters actually atop the Shadowvein, focusing more on the experience of the river itself, but that may be me. All in all, I consider this to be a nice adventure, and as such, my final verdict for this as a stand-alone module will be 4 stars. Please do note, that this also represents a set-up that transitions from more subdued aesthetics towards the ever stranger, its payoffs to a degree  featuring in the sequel, so if you plan on going the whole way down the Shadowvein, then consider this to be 4.5 stars, rounded up instead.

 

You can get this neat adventure here on OBS!

 

Want the whole Shadowvein-bundle? It can be found here!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 192019
 

Stronghold of the Wood Giant Shaman (DCC)

This module clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Well, before we do: There are actually 4 pdfs included here:  The regular pdf, one without watermarks, and a second version laid out in digest-size (6’’ by 9’’/A5), if you prefer smaller booklets. The fourth pdf provides the b/w-maps in two iterations – one with all numbers and labels, and a second one without the labels. While I very much appreciate the inclusion of player-friendly maps in this mini-booklet, one of them has one instance where a secret-door-S has not been properly redacted, representing a minor spoiler here. While equipped with grids, the maps do not note a scale, which some of my readers would consider to be a minor inconvenience.

 

Theme-wise, this is a homage of sorts to “Against the Giants”, as seen through the lens of DCC. We already had that? Well, in contrast to “Beyond the Black Gate”, this is not intended to be played as an infiltration; we have basically a “take-the-fortress”-scenario here, and thus, difficulty very much can vary. Dumb PCs will probably die horribly, but then again, this is a 5th-level module, and if the PCs haven’t learned by now to use their brains, they deserve what’s coming to them. This is very much a player-driven sandbox that presents a detailed situation, and then lets the players figure out how to deal with it. Occupation bonuses, just fyi, have been noted where applicable.

 

The pdf includes a total of 4 new magic items (not including weaponry with unique properties and the like that can be gained in the module – these 4 items have a somewhat more detailed rendition), and 4 new monsters: The leg-breaking, ape-like squatches, catfish trolls, the dangerous beaver-like gicastors initially introduced in “Attack of the Frawgs!” and the eponymous wood giants. The latter get the most information, with sample treasure and their own, rather nasty and visceral crit-table – kudos for that! Organization-wise, the module also presents a handy GM-cheat-sheet that makes tracking the population of wood giants easier (names for individual giants noted, even if they use rank-and-file giant stats!). Speaking of which: Wood giants use a d22 Action Die and have notes for how to use that provided. The respective areas come with read-aloud text for your convenience, and the module does come with various hooks that the judge can employ to reel PCs in.

 

A nice plus would be that the module establishes global rules for the stronghold, as well as notes on intelligent enemy reactions – the giants will not simply wait as the PCs take them down one by one. Motivations are explained as well, and a wandering monster table for outside of the compound is provided for your convenience. It should also be noted that one of the artworks herein stands out – a massive b/w-one-page artwork of one of the climactic scenes of the module, it not only looks cool, it makes for a neat handout. It is also, quality-wise, better than the cover, so that was a nice surprise.

 

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

 

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All right, only judges around? Great!  So, the first thing you’ll note, is that the stronghold, a fort of sorts, makes sense – from the wolves (curiously led by a demonic canine entity) to the catfish troll used as a living garbage disposal to the squatch-slaves, makes sense; this very much attempts to create an illusion of a plausible fortress, and succeeds in doing so. The outhouse has a truly limitless supply of nasty prune flies, wood spider swarms lair within woodpiles – this is a dangerous place for mortals; after all, the squatches fear their giant masters’ whips more than puny hoomanz.

 

Anyhow, PCs just thinking they’ll be stopping Goothlik the wood giant shaman will be in for a surprise – you see, the wood giant shaman has blasphemed against Veedarkaleesh, a mighty shadow demon, who promptly took note. As a diversion from his existential ennui, the demon has taken the shaman, consuming his soul; his skin is now worn as a flesh-suit by the demon, the shaman’s essence kept as the largest of several blood golem-giant things, with vampiric slugs transferring Goothlik’s essence to the demon in disguise, all while guarded by a wizard who got a particularly sucky deal for his patron bond with the shadow demon. Well. It’s a demon. He should have known better.

 

But I digress. Beyond a demoness (in the guide of a cheetah woman) and aforementioned minor hints may clue to the PCs in that something’s afoul – and there is this one portal that leads to the plane of shadow, where shadow lampreys and ethereal piranhas may attempt to feast on delicious light-bearers. It is also here that curious PCs may, via visions etc., get some ideas as to what happened if they so far haven’t played their cards right. This trip remains short, though. Ultimately, once the PCs return from this place, they will find a massacre if they haven’t yet left one – only the demon and his cronies remain, making for a rather brutal final combat. Plus-side: If the PCs were fooled by the cheetah woman-demon, they have the silver chain that once bound here, which could be just the tool to mean the difference between death and survival. As far as the demonic angle is concerned, I’d have loved to see a bit more of weirdness like the vampire slugs here; the module feels very well like a classic old-school adventure – this is intentional, but I figured it’d be worth mentioning.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Thick Skull Adventures’ two-column b/w-standard, with the b/w-artworks ranging from okay to awesome.  The (mostly) player-friendly versions of the solid b/w-cartography represents a serious plus as far as I’m concerned. The pdf comes with proper, nested bookmarks in all versions.

 

Stephen Newton’s homage to the classics here is a nice, sandboxy adventure. Challenging and fun, it makes for a nice and well-wrought take-the-stronghold type of sandbox. The support provided regarding maps, the details and the general sense of plausibility enhance this module beyond what you’d expect from it. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like this, with some minor modifications regarding the brief sojourn to another place and the final combat, could have become more epic/dire still. Then again, this is me nitpicking a well-crafted bow towards an all-time classic. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this adventure here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 192019
 

Welcome to Scarthey (almost system neutral)

This setting supplement clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page acknowledgements, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 53 pages of content – at least in the single-page version. If you prefer e-readers and the like, there is a double-page version of the pdf included as well.

 

This review was added and moved up in my reviewing queue because I was tasked to review a module set in this setting, and it makes no sense and violates my OCD-tendencies to cover a module without first talking about its backdrop.

 

Okay, so Scarthey is a magical university, one that sports 4 different Houses that you’re assigned to; there is an orientation, and courses are assigned based on the things you wish to learn. Anyone wishing to study magic can enroll in Scarthey, and among the staff, there are rectors – basically the sanctioned adventurers of the university, which also contain non-casters. As such, this can create an interesting dynamic, as a adventuring group is assumed to consist of a mix of rectors and students.

 

Archchancellor Gwydion Ambrosius gets a full-page artwork, one that makes him, aptly, look like a cross between Gandalf and Dumbledore – it’s a pretty damn gorgeous piece, and indeed, this is something you realize once you open the pdf for the first time: This is one beautiful book. The pdf sports a parchment-like background with blue highlights and headers and a ton of baroque graphic elements that don’t detract from the text, but rather enhance it – the layout is absolutely stunning and deserves some serious applause.

 

Scarthey is properly mapped in a solid, if slightly less impressive two-page spread map (one page for the double-page version, obviously), which I’d usually applaud. However, it would have been nice to a) get a player-friendly, unlabeled map (though I can, for once, stomach its absence, considering that campus-maps will be present) and b), the map lacks a scale. As provided, it’s hard to glean how sprawling or cluttered those grounds are supposed to be. The map also, obviously, lacks a grid, so it remains pretty much abstract. Scarthey also seems to have only one means of getting there by land (as noted in the description of the gatehouse), but unfortunately the exact dimensions of where the university is can’t be gleaned from the map.

 

The description of the individual keyed locales that follows is written in a semi-IC-prose style, reminiscent of the pamphlets you’re handed when enrolling in a new university – “friendly librarian staff under the direction of Professor Raama Tuko” will gladly assist you, though some levels are obviously off-limits for new students – you get the idea. I enjoyed the implementation of this particular narrative conceit. From a prestigious healing house to a bardic school, there are quite a few different components here – at this point, it’s also worth mentioning that quite a few perfectly-chosen pieces of public domain drawings supplement the academy – there are a lot of those inside, and from alchemy tower to artificer’s hall, this section covered a lot of ground – with curious absences: None of the occult classes seem to receive instruction in Scarthey.

 

Speaking of which: While e.g. stabling is covered with costs for flying mounts and the like per semester, the book, as befitting of its tone, does make mention of e.g. the phantom chariot spell and similar components. This brings me to a crucial thing you need to know:

 

This supplement, while nominally declared PFRPG-compatible, makes many of Raging Swan Press’ offerings look positively crunchy. It is basically almost bereft of actual rules-relevant material in all but cursory references. No settlement statblock is provided for Scarthey, no feats, traits, spells – nothing in that regard. This also becomes pretty obvious with the staff: A total of 13 different NPCs are presented with a gorgeous artwork, a brief introduction, and a sample quote. The artworks deserve mention, as I did not expect to see so many gorgeous pieces herein. However, we don’t even get an inkling about their alignment and chosen classes – not even a brief “N male human transmuter 14” or the like. This is a bit puzzling to me, considering that the pdf for example does present the structure of the university in a handy two-page spread chart. Speaking of gorgeous two-page spreads – there is a rather impressive two-page artwork that depicts Scarthey, which made me think of Neuschwanstein – just with waterfalls and a gothic architecture hall (that seems weirdly out of place in contrast to the rest of the architecture) added – but that may just be me being a Bavarian.

 

Rules for conduct in Scarthey are presented alongside a variety of punishments for breaking said rules – these, fyi, remain pretty lenient and enlightened. A total of 4 pages is devoted to the chronology of Scarthey, with banner like headers denoting the respective year – I mention this, because the banners, while gorgeous, take up quite a bunch of space, and some people are irked by the like.

 

After this, we are guided through the process of choosing a house – and oddly, here we do get stats for the chancellor’s crown of casting, which only enhances your Intelligence by +2 and nets you a bonus equal to your HD to concentration checks. It comes with construction notes – and as you could glean, is just a reskin of the headband of vast intelligence +2, one that fails to note the skill-component correctly, and one that is mispriced rather severely, as its additional benefit should have increased its base price – it costs the same as a headband. It also kinda made me think that it’s weird that a school of magic can’t afford a better item for its most prestigious positions.

 

Anyway, we do get information on the 4 houses, which all feature their own absolutely stunning crests, with house master, motto, alignment, values, beliefs and mascot briefly noted – but we don’t get to know about total strength of the like. Each house comes with its own campaign trait; these are okay, but e.g. ignoring up to 3 rounds of staggered is probably preferable to +1 Diplomacy and getting it as a class skill. As an aside, in the latter case, the trait is missing its bonus type.

 

The pdf continues to talk about wizard supplies and takes another cue from the Harry Potter franchise, in that it presents a variant of wand-based casting – personalized wands can allow you to ignore up to 25 gp worth of material components, and casting without one makes you increase spell failure chance. This is per se a cool notion, but one that would have needed to be supplemented by rules that explain how metamagic, options that ignore somatic casting and the like are balanced within the context of the modified wand-engine. It is a nice notion, but one that will not survive contact with an experienced group of rules-savvy players.

 

After very brief write-ups of a tavern and some extracurricular activities (like dragon boat rowing!) that could have used more crunchy representations to make them engaging mini-games, the pdf closes. The rowing game does have a touch of crunch sprinkled in, but to me, remained somewhat opaque.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level they are solid regarding the presentation, but less exciting regarding the underlying design. Layout, as noted, is GORGEOUS and provides a unique identity to the supplement. I really enjoyed this quasi-baroque aesthetic employed within, and a surprising amount of gorgeous full-color artworks and well-chosen public-domain art, initials and the like make this one beautiful book. Seriously. The cartography’s utility does not live up to the beauty of the artwork or layout, alas, and no unlabeled version is included. Unfortunately, there are two components here that must be mentioned. Neither of the two versions has any bookmarks, which makes navigation a colossal pain. Additionally, printing this, in the absence of a printer-friendly version, will be a massive drain on your ink and toner-resources.

 

More important, and jarring: This book takes the same grating approach as Wayward Rogues Publishing: You can’t highlight or search ANY TEXT in this file. Every page is basically an artwork. Combined with the lack of bookmarks, this renders the pdf a huge pain to navigate, and if you want to create a GM-cheat-sheet, you’ll be copying text by hand. URGHH. Particularly for a setting supplement that provides an overview of a region/organization/etc., this is utterly grating.

 

Bob Storrar and Rodney Sloan provide a very vanilla experience regarding a wizard school here – if you expected intricate notes on courses, an engine to acquire spells or feats or the like, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Then again, considering the gripes I had with the few pieces of crunch within, this may have been a wise decision. Depending on how you look at it, the fact that this book doesn’t really integrate the rich lore of PFRPG and casting traditions into its framework may be a bug or a feature – if you expected to see truly unique and potent faculty members with stats, well, then I’d probably recommend Drop Dead Studios’ “Wizard’s School” sandbox/mega-adventure/bestiary instead.

 

If you, however, wanted a Harry Potter-style wizard’s academy with very enlightened tenets and an overall wholesome appeal, then Scarthey may be more up your alley.

 

To make that abundantly clear: Scarthey’s main problem is not the fact that it’s so fluff-centric; my main gripe, apart from the atrociously grating experience of actually trying to use the pdf, is that it remains solely concerned with the surface level. So, necromancy’s heavily sanctioned. Okay, how? No idea. You can’t cast death magic. There is a great hospital, got ya- how do they research these afflictions that are not easily curable with magic? Quarantine measures? The book never dives beyond a surface level – “this is here.”

 

Okay, understood – how does it work? Well you won’t find the answers within.

 

While beautiful, the layout, at times, with its copious artworks, almost felt like it attempted to make up for the lack of depth regarding the information provided. Ultimately, the text probably could have been jammed into a book half the size of this one. This would be fine as well – but in the end, I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t comfortable running this as written. The supplement lacks so much information regarding depth that I can’t help but feel that I simply don’t know enough about Scarthey to run it for a prolonged time.

 

And this is a genuine pity, for this book, in spite of its shortcomings, does not feel phoned in. It is a book into which, when all is said and done, showcases energy, time and genuine passion. For me as a person, this represents a failure – while I admired the aesthetics (I really did!), I want more depth from my supplements. At the same time, I can understand and easily conceive of people for whom this would be amazing. There hence are two opposing points of view that can be contrasted with one another, and there’s no reconciliation between them. Do you want mechanical and narrative depth? Then this doesn’t have much to offer. Do you want a stylish pdf that executes its notion of being basically a “start of the semester pamphlet” rather well? Then this may well be fun for you and yours!

 

Usually, this’d mean that the book ends up somewhere in the middle of my rating system, probably on the upper end – however, this also is one of the most inconvenient, asinine pdfs to actually use I’ve seen in quite a while. The combination of the lack of any form of bookmarks AND the fact that you can’t even cut-copy-paste text together renders this pretty much unusable without an e-reader. And that is a huge no-go for me. Hence, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo and the impressive work that went into the overall presentation. If rated for its content alone, you should probably detract at least another star.

 

You can get this absolutely gorgeous, but not necessarily detailed pdf here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

Jun 182019
 

What Lies Beyond Reason Campaign Guide II (revised edition)

The revised edition of the second campaign guide for the unique What Lies Beyond Reason AP clocks in at 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page Kickstarter-backer-thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 40 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters.

 

All right, this campaign guide begins with a recap of the story so far, before taking a look at a central component of the AP as a whole: The mysteries at the heart of the rather intricately-constructed plot of the series. Considering how the components of the storyline do hinge on investigation and smart players piecing together the truth behind several grander mysteries, this guide presents some trouble-shooting advice, if you will. These range from pretty straight-forward visions, to e.g. research in Anduria’s vast library featuring books penned by alumni of mythos-related writing – from S. Peterson to A. Blackwood. These, in parts, do even come with their own read-aloud text, which is a nice plus. On the downside, one of the read-aloud texts to be applied in “Ignorance is Bliss” does designate something obviously only intended for the GM’s eyes as read-aloud, so you should be careful with that one.

 

The book also presents different notes on magical research regarding e.g. the runestone necklace, which now is properly italicized, with a bonus type also italicized – those usually aren’t printed in italics, but that’s cosmetic. The numerous references to 5e-skills instead of PFRPG-skill notations have been duly purged by the revised iteration of this campaign guide.

Various means of learning a certain NPCS runic magic may be found – and yes, there is more than one way to potentially implement this into your game., and they cite the proper item creation means.

 

After this section, we get several additional bits of troubleshooting regarding evolving play, a section plenty of GMs will appreciate greatly – whether it’s handling PCs rejecting becoming semi-official law enforcement or some other components of the series, we have quite a few suggestions here to keep the gameplay smooth and the story on track.

 

The book then proceeds to present two new sample NPCs – the first of whom, Quintus, a sorcerer-turned-lawyer, can help the PCs navigate the intricacies of Anduria’s legal system. He also despises the Seekers and has a rivalry with Damien going on, so plenty of dynamics added here. He does come with a solid statblock. The second would be airship captain Octavio Velderve. Both NPCs not only come fully statted, but also with their own, really nice full-color artworks. Good ole’ Damien gets a CR 15 iteration as well. The statblocks, as a whole, while not perfect (you can sometimes find e.g. a missing comma and the like), are more ambitious than what we usually see in heavily story-centric supplements. You should run into no significant issues using these.

 

The book also contains a total of 4 different sidetreks designed for characters level 6 – 8. The individual locales don’t generally sport read-aloud text, but do come with surprisingly nice full-color cartography, which brings me to a big plus of the series as a whole: We get proper, handout-style jpg-renditions of all maps featured in the sidetreks, with one being an isometric overview map of a general region; the others, which are more suitable for combat scenarios, come with grids – and the maps included in the archive are completely player-friendly, making them not only great full-color handouts, but also facilitating online play. Huge plus there!

 

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

 

..

.

 

All right, only GMs around? Great!

 

So, the first sidetrek would be “Airship issues” can serve as an introduction to the new NPC Octavio, and centers on the attempted theft of one of the cities’ few remaining airships, the Emerald Vision. On the plus-side, we do get proper stats for the ship and airskiffs featured in this swashbuckling encounter. In the first iteration, this whole section was basically non-operational, and it is my pleasure to report that the author has gone back and revised the entire section – aside from a single Strength check-reference to jump (which should be handled by Acrobatics in PFRPG), the airships featured now provide a ton of properly codified interaction points, with windows, doors, etc. all noted regarding break DCs, HP and hardness. Huge kudos for fixing this one. The inclusion of the proper airship stats now makes this section really shine, and PFRPG lends itself very well to the dynamic action here.

 

Bank heist centers around an item that can serve as a means of severing Eiria from the Echo of Faith – the horn of shackle breaking, and as such, happens off screen if the GM elects not to run the scenario. The PCs are called upon to defend the vault in the noble ward against hydras, elementals and the like, reaching the scene of a massacre in progress, as hopelessly outgunned watchmen struggle against the monsters. The heist also does make the PCs witness the warping effects of a particularly nasty component of the Machine. A reference to a 5e-condition in the previous iteration has been properly replaced, adjusted to PFRPG. As a small aside – conditions are usually not italicized in PFRPG, but that’s a purely aesthetic snafu and doesn’t impede the game.

The artifact in question, the horn, now also adheres properly to PFRPG’s conventions. That being said, while not perfect, the conversion here is significantly better, though e.g. the CMD-value of the officer statblock is off by 1, but chances are you won’t necessarily encounter this as an issue.

 

The third side-trek, “Beneath the Waves”, focuses on PCs being hired for a kind of treasure-hunt – potential proof that legendary hero Drexel has actually existed may have surfaced, and as such, are hired to travel to the Sunrise Isles and dive below the sea. The voyage is pretty detailed, and mechanical suggestions for tasks are provided – Reefing the sails or making fast the lines are tied to Strength and Dexterity checks here, when they probably should refer to skills, but as a whole, this is now operational. Nice: The rules for diving gear have been properly adjusted to PFRPG in the revised edition, and the glaring oversight of the boss of this sidetrek, a horrid monster crab, missing from the book, has been rectified. The crab btw. does have a unique rage-aura (Will save should be capitalized) and a displacement effect, making it more than just a big crab. Kudos for fixing this sidetrek!

 

This final side trek, lost souls, has the PCs tasked by Silvira to enter the nine hells through the gate in Silverton to retrieve the soul of the dragon’s mate. Yep, it’s a trip to Avernus, and an interesting one, as it basically is a mini-sandbox in a distinctly-different scenery that includes rules prohibiting mortals from flight, notes on how to handle death while in hell, and the like. This trip to Hell can be deadly for PCs, but is probably highly entertaining, making copious use of the hellish bureaucracy-angle that makes the DMV look like child’s play. This sidetrek made for a surprisingly fun and light-hearted change of pace that the campaign really could use before the final arc. Nice job, also for fixing the materials

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting of the revised edition can be considered to be good, bordering on very good, on both a formal and rules-language level. The new version of the campaign guide can be considered to be in line with the entire series in that regard. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the book features solid full-color artworks. The cartography is well-done, full-color, and plentiful – I really enjoyed that aspect of the book, particularly the inclusion of the player-friendly versions. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Micah Watt proved beyond a shadow of a doubt a commitment to do the right thing with this revised edition. Instead of shrugging and moving on after the botched first iteration of the guide, he went back with a fine-tooth comb and proceeded to fix the guide – and that, dear readers, is something I 100% want to encourage. It is evident that he cares about his customers, about his saga, and the revised edition of the second campaign guide can now be considered to be a welcome addition to the What Lies Beyond Reason AP. Bereft of all the issues that previously plagued this guide, my verdict for the new iteration of this supplement will be 4.5 stars, rounded up. Kudos and thank you for doing the honorable thing!!

 

You can get the revised edition of this campaign guide here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 182019
 

Star Log.EM: Kami (SFRPG)

This Star Log.EM-installment clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

On the introductory page, we get a pretty massive subtype graft that grants kami immunity to bleed, polymorph and mind-affecting effects, resistance 10 to three energy types, as well as CR-based telepathy. Additionally, they designate a ward, which may be a creature, location or object. The kami may merge with the ward and share senses as a standard action, and emerge just the same way. Nice: This takes mounting wards into account regarding size category implications. While within 120 feet of the ward, the kami gets its CR as fast healing. If merged with the ward and the ward dies, so does the kami (no save!); if the ward dies while the kami is not merged with it, the kami instead becomes permanently sickened until establishing a new ward, which takes a full year! They also get ward empathy, making its starting attitude to respectively qualifying beings or those that inhabit the ward very positive. Nice framework!

 

Beyond a pretty massive and well-written piece of fluff, this supplement contains three different kami statblocks: At CR 1, we have the kokugami, a diminutive kami based on the expert array, capable of firing beams of sonic energy. The ray has no range noted, which is a bit annoying. That being said, I do like that the kami has unique abilities that reward merging with the host, allowing the kami to accept Constitution damage to reduce damage incurred by the host to nonlethal. And no, it can’t be cheesed. They also enhance the host’s healing while resting. Nice, can I have one? Minor nitpick: The statblock is missing its fast healing 1 defensive ability line.

 

At CR 10, the torijigami uses the combatant array, and treats its weapons as though they had the holy fusion – erroneously referred to as “infusion” here and not italicized. This fellow has no unique ward-twists. KAC isn’t properly bolded.

 

Finally, the CR 25 hozonsugami kami would be a bit odd, in that its CR is incorrect – it is clearly a CR 15 creature regarding EAC and KAC, Hit Points, etc., not, as noted, a CR 25 critter. It can fire rays of cosmic radiation that also cause radiation (severity rating would have been nice…), and it has a couple of cool tweaks –like the ability to attract meteorites to bombard nearby targets. They can also use their SPs while merged with the ward. On a nitpicky side, the save-names of this one aren’t properly bolded.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting can still be considered to be good on a formal and rules-language level, but e.g. the CR glitch is nasty, and the formatting oversights for the statblocks are uncommon to see in Everyman Gaming/Everybody Games’ offerings. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the artwork included is nice. If it made you expect a starship-sized kami, you’ll be disappointed, though. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Alexander Augunas’ kami are inspired in their concepts and ideas, but also, alas, slightly rushed regarding their formal criteria. While certainly not bad, a few of the formal glitches could confuse less experienced GMs. All in all, a cool, but also somewhat rushed-feeling supplement, resulting in a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get these kami here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 182019
 

Star Log.EM: Space Goblin Options (SFRPG)

This installment of the Star Log.EM-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

After a brief, flavorful introduction to space goblins within the context of the Xa-Osoro system, we kick off this pdf with the Best-Gob paragon archetype, which requires, obviously, that the character in question is a space goblin. This archetype nets the best-gob Skill Focus with Engineering at 2nd level as an alternate class feature. At 11th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the insight bonus increases by 1. Additionally, at 4th, 6th, 12th and 19th level, you may take any feat with the goblinoid subtype as a prerequisite as a replacement class feature bonus feat.

 

The pdf also presents 12 new feats (which will probably bring a smile to plenty of PFRPG-veterans):

 

-Burn! Burn! Burn!: +1 insight bonus to attack with fire damage dealing attacks; additionally, when attacking with a non-fire damage dealing spell or attack, you can convert half damage into fire damage. Depending on your campaign’s power-level, this may warrant scrutiny, as this can render regular weaponry better than dual damage type equivalents. I’d ban this in my game.

 

-Everything is UBPS: This is cool: It lets you expend items when using Engineering to craft or repair as if they were UBPs worth 90% base price; broken items still yield 50% UBPs. Cool!

 

-Expanded Tinkering:  Use a move action to affect an ally’s weapon in reach; the weapon may not eb broken, which nets +4d6 damage for single-target weapons, +2d6 for AoE weaponry (which, I assume, includes automatic weapons); this only applies to the next attack, and at the start of your next round, the weapon becomes broken. Not a big fan of this conversion.

 

-Explosive Resistance: +2 to AC and to saves vs. blast and explode weapons and AoE effect spells. This doubles against “attacks and spells that you use.” Not sure what that means – proficiency? Ability to cast them? Effects that originate from the character? This could be a bit smoother.

 

-Get Into Everything: +2 to Strength checks to break stuff; also adds a racial bonus to Improved Combat Maneuver (sunder), if you have it. The feat also allows you to make Engineering checks to pinpoint weak points in a construction, with DC scaling based on item level. Nice one!

 

-Goblin Song: Language-based swift action demoralize versus a target, potentially affecting allies of the target within 30 ft., though the Intimidate check is harder for these secondary targets. Nice: Has proper menacing gaze expertise talent synergy.

 

-Improved Tinker: When using the tinker racial trait, ignore broken condition for 1d4 rounds, after which an object ceases to work for 10 minutes. Nice one, and kudos for the anti-abuse caveat!

 

-Junkomancer Adept: Technomancer feat that increases CL for spells with “junk” or “bot” in the name by +2 for the purpose of duration, and fabricate scrap becomes more potent. The spell-reference is not italicized properly, though.

 

-Junkomancer Expert:  This one builds on the previous one, and modifies the cache capacitor. The spells list can be cast at will, but their effects end after 24 hours. Interesting!

 

-Jury Rigging:  Lets you create a fragile repaired version of an item. Fragile? Yep, this may make your weapons break rather easily – the property is noted here. That being said, this lacks e.g. the precision and differentiation of the excellent jury-rigging rules presented in this very series. I strongly suggest using Star Log.EM: Jury-Rigging Rules instead.

 

-Master Junker: Move 10 ft. through difficult terrain as if it were normal terrain, but only for non-natural difficult terrain. Also nets you a +1 untyped bonus to Engineering checks to identify creatures, recall knowledge and craft or repair technological items.

 

-Unexpected Critical (Combat): When you attack with a broken weapon you used tinker racial trait on, and your attack roll’s result is a 19, you may spend 1 Resolve Point to treat the attack as a critical hit, but only if you’d hit the target with the 19. On a hit, you deal double damage and trigger any critical effects of the weapon, but at the end of the turn, the weapon is destroyed.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a rules-language and formal level, and the pdf comes with a nice artwork. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Jacob McKiernan’s space goblin options are interesting, ranging from the very clever to the slightly less exciting – the material basically takes old PFRPG material and re-contextualizes it. All in all, I consider this to be a nice expansion for space goblin fans, but wasn’t too impressed with quite a few of the feats within. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform – recommended if you were a fan of PFRPG’s goblins, but otherwise, not the strongest offering in the product line.

 

You can get these options here on OBS!

 

Missed the excellent Jury-Rigging Rules? You can find them here!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 182019
 

Starfarer Adversaries: Bounty Hunter (SFRPG)

This installment of the Starfarer Adversaries-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The bounty hunter herein comes in three iterations, all of which are human soldiers – the rookie (CR 4), the regular one (CR 8) and the veteran (CR 12). The builds make use of the Spell Bane feat and the bounty hunter theme; the latter being a welcome, if unusual deviation from the straight application of class grafts here, as far as I’m concerned.

 

The builds seem to be missing the -2 adjustment to Reflex save mandated by the class graft, though. As far as fighting styles are concerned, we have the bombard here, and grenade expert noted separately. As an early offering, there are some deviations in the notation of statblocks here – damage, for example, is not abbreviated, but instead lists e.g. “piercing” fully, and the formatting of grenades does differ from the one used in e.g. the Alien Archives. Interesting, if not correctly formatted – the builds use entangling weapon fusions for grenades. Similarly, the fly speed the two more potent builds receive should note that it’s derived from a jetpack.

 

Conclusion:

Editing is very good on a formal, and good on a rules-language level; as far as formatting is concerned, we have quite a few deviations from the standard. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artwork provided is rather charmingly reminiscent of silver age comic book books. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Jacob Blackmon nets a couple of solid and usable, if not perfect soldier statblocks here. Very much an NPC Codex-style offering, they provide some rank-and-file fodder for your PCs to struggle against. All in all, a decent, if not mind-blowing offering. The installment covering Thugs was much better and offered more. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS.

 

Please consider supporting my patreon here to keep the lights on.


Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 142019
 

The Undercroft #2 (OSR)

The second installment of the Undercroft-zine clocks in at 21 pages (laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5) if you disregard front cover, editorial, etc. I own the print copy, which is stitch-bound, well-made little booklet as far as ‘zines are concerned.

 

Anyhow, important to know: While nominally, the content herein is designed for use with the LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) system, the majority of the articles contained within are not only pretty rules-lite, they actually can be applied rather easily to other systems – to the point where I’d consider this to be almost system neutral. So yeah, if you’re playing 5e or PFRPG or the like, it’ll be easy to adapt the materials within.

 

Okay, that out of the way, it should be noted that this ‘zine’s installment is devoted to HORROR.  Not dark fantasy, not “kinda creepy let’s kill undead”, but frickin’ horror. While it also features components that are strange, the ‘zine is actually effective in what it does, so reader discretion is advised.

 

The most “normal” article within this booklet was penned by Tony A. Thompson, and is situated smack in the middle of the ‘zine: On a two page spread with the artwork, cleverly situated in the middle of the page, making smart use of the binding chosen. The article contains 12 different potions, suitable to teach PCs not to drink any weird liquid they find – there would, for example, be one that makes the characters’ toes fall off, to be replaced by tiny hooves. Severe disorientation, blindness, smelling breath, flesh oozing from the mouth – some seriously nasty effects here, and it should be noted that these make for interesting complications/side-effects as well. Overall, the rules-component is almost non-existent here, which may be a plus or downside, depending on where you’re coming from.

 

The ‘zine also contains three different monsters, illustrated by Matthew Adams in a stark and intriguing style that captures ScrapPrincess frenetic energy while being more concrete and defined – I really enjoyed his art style and wished we got to see more of it. The creatures are, for example, the nightmare fodder storkman, whose long legs stride through mist that sedate the legs of those caught in it – while they steal babies to place them at the threshold of other households for an inscrutable agenda. Briar witches haunt old ruins, and each word uttered in her vicinity will cause damage – and strengthen her. These witches can cause the growth of briars and brambles, and emit screams by spending hit points they absorbed.  The artwork seems to show her with a rose in her mouth, which made me shudder. Finally, the snailing is a man with a snail’s shell on the back – transformed by their miserly nature into obsessive and dangerous collectors. All of these don’t have stats, but their concepts speak for themselves.

 

Daniel Sell’s “The Visitor”, also illustrated by Matthew Adamas, does come with stats – the entity is a weird, preternaturally quiet supernatural serial killer who enjoys invading homes and paralyzing targets, arranging them in grisly tableaus, mummifying its victims. Seriously twisted! Less horrific: Tobis. That’s short for Transplasmic Organic Bifurious Inductors, these entities can help stabilize magic and represent essentially a kind of unique homunculus that comes with special variants that have their own rules as well. Nice.

 

Speaking of which: Simon Forster contributes a brief short story, “Blood”, which, while slightly experimental, was a great read! Kudos! Simon Forster also presents the little scenario herein, which ties in with another article.

 

In order to talk about the brief module (which could jumpstart a whole campaign), we need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

 

..

.

 

All right, only referees around? A perfectly circular pool somewhere in the wild contains a massive ring at the bottom – once the curious adventurers pull it, the water willd rain into the sealed wizard’s laboratory/cave complex hidden beneath – and the water will erase the binding of That Which Slips Between. And this alone is worth getting this ‘zine if you even remotely like horror. Seriously. This entity gets its very own article, penned by Luke Gearing.

 

It is inspired. You see, the entity is essentially a nigh-unstoppable, strange force. To quote the start of the article: “It moves towards you. Its gait leisurely. Each step It takes moves too far towards you, the distance seeming to warp with every step. A nightmarish child-drawing of a human figure – a jumble of lines masquerading as a man, a stick figure given malignant life and purpose…” The entity comes with stats, but it can’t be harmed, it can’t be slain – I can just be contained. Its actions are not guided by mortal sense or dramaturgy – there is a generator to determine its actions, with 20 different entries, random directions and some rumors provided. These tables are GOLD. One of the things that makes the hounds of Tindalos and similar entities like Slenderman work so well, is that they seem to adhere to inscrutable rules – this is the case here. For example, the entity might move to the lowest depression within a 500 foot radius, then kill anything in that depression. It will kill anything that moves into the depression. After finishing its work, it will stand perfectly still for 6 minutes and 34 second. Time and its rules imposed on the creature, observing, roleplaying, is the only way to have a chance to deal with this utterly horrific…THING. It is genius, amazing and thoroughly glorious. It is genuinely SCARY.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, where applicable. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, and as noted, the artworks featured within, particularly for the monsters, are awesome. The adventure-site gets a nice piece of b/w-cartography, but no untagged player-friendly version.

 

Daniel Sell, Simon Forster, Matthew Adams, Tony A. Thompson and Luke Gearing have created a humble little ‘zine that made me redefine what I can dare to hope from regarding ‘zines. This supplement is literally all killer, no filler and That Which Slips Between alone warrants getting this supplement. If you even remotely like horror, get this. The entity is so cool, I’m tempted to use it in pretty much all systems GUMSHOE, CoC, etc. – the monstrosity is just brilliant, and I’d pay serious bucks for a whole book of entities of this caliber. All in all, an excellent ‘zine for horror-fans, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval and my “Best of”-tag. Highly recommended!!

 

You can get this inspired ‘zine here on OBS!

 

Want print? You can find a copy here on Exalted Funeral (preferable for US customers) or here on Melsonian Arts Council’s store (better rates if you’re in the EU).

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 142019
 

The Master of Forms Expanded – The Wood Element

This expansion for the Master of Forms-class clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue by my patreon supporters.

 

I assume familiarity with the Master of Forms class in this review.

 

All right, so the wood stance allows the master of forms to grant a single growth point to a floral ally within 30 ft. What’s that? Well, the element comes with the sow the seeds ability, which nets the buried wildthorn, shieldroot and tilling broadleaf forms. Each of them creates a stationary floral ally that has a single action per round. These forms do not count towards the wood forms known for the purpose of prerequisites, but do count as wood forms for the purpose of entering and maintaining elemental stances.

 

You can only have one floral ally planted, but once you know 4 wood forms, you can have 2. If you know all 8, you can have three floral allies. You may not have more than one floral ally of a given type at a given time, though. At the end of your turn, when within 30 ft. of one or more floral allies, you may grant a single floral ally within 30 ft. 1 growth point. At 5th level, all floral allies start with 1 growth point, which increases by a further +1 at 11th and 17th level. Sow the seeds is not per se a form, but when the master of forms gains any wood form, they receive this as a kind of bonus ability.

 

Buried Wildthorn has a range of 30 ft., focus requirement of 0-3, and entails no focus change. The wildthorn is planted as a standard action, and 1/round attacks a target within 30 ft. of its position, with an attack bonus of class level + Charisma modifier. Damage is 1d8 piercing damage, with 7th level making the attack count as magical. The ally shares all attack and damage bonuses and penalties you have, and gains an enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls equal to the highest bonus your weapons have. It has hardness equal to Charisma modifier, and thrice class level hit points. Melee attacks hit automatically, but ranged attacks have to hit a paltry AC.

 

Shieldroots follow a similar design paradigm, but act as buffers, providing temporary hit points to those nearby, while tilling broadleaves can use pollen to dazzle those that fail a save, or temporarily create difficult terrain. Here’s the thing: All of these have a second ability section: Growth. At 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 growth points they increase their effects. The buried wildthorn, in sequence, first adds Charisma modifier to atk, can expend growth points to execute cone-bursts of needles, cause bleed damage, overcome metal-based DRs, or self-destruct in a shrapnel explosion (to which the master of forms is btw. immune)! Cool! The shieldroot adds AC boosts, can make you share temporary hit points granted to allies, enhance saves, grant minor DR, or detonate in a short-lived, but AoE-affecting temporary hit point burst that could well mean the difference between triumph and TPK.

 

The tilling broadleaf gains wholly new abilities – flammable variants of grease, entangling targets, temporary focus grants and walls of vegetation – rather versatile!

 

These three can be improved with the “Enhanced *insert floral ally name* forms” – these reduce execution time for them to move action, focus change to +1, and provide an Escalation for the respective floral ally. Nice! With fecundity, a passive, whenever a creature dies or is destroyed, you may expend 1 focus point to grow one floral ally that doesn’t count towards your maximum. The short lifespan of these do prevent any abuse scenario I managed to come up with. The second passive, Bonsai, requires 6th level, and allows you to plant a floral ally in a small pot that you can carry around – it basically occupies your square. You can only have one such ally, but it does enhance its AC somewhat – and, well, it’s now mobile. Speaking of mobility: With the transplant form (an active one available at 6th level+) (swift action, range 60 ft., focus change +1), you can transplant a floral ally to an unoccupied square in range. Unique: This does allow for the use of an additional form, but any form with a +1 focus change instead has a focus change of 0. The third passive lets you the first time when you’d be reduced to 0 or below hp per day, expend 3 focus points as an immediate action, regaining 1d10 hit points per class level. Nice.

 

Fertilize, with a focus change of +1, allows you to grant a floral ally within 60 ft. 1 growth point, 2 at 11th level. There are three actives that require the respective “Enhanced” floral ally form: Razor Lash has a range of 30 ft. and a focus change of -1: It nets a nearby wildthorn +1 growth point and lets you make an attack that deals 1d8 + class level + Charisma modifier piercing damage as either a standard action or as an attack in a full attack. The Regrowth form requires the Enhanced shieldroot, and nets temporary hit points and a growth point – as an immediate action, which explicitly allows you to bypass the fixed limit on forms. Nice. The form building on the Enhanced broadleaf lets you create broadleaf forms, as though you had 1/3rd class level growth points (minimum 1, rounded down) and grant, bingo, a broadleaf a growth point.

 

Starting at 6th level, metabolic overdrive is unlocked: At focus change -2, it requires a move action to activate, and allows floral allies in range (60 ft.) execute two actions, but at the cost of 3 growth points per round. Virulent Decomposition, also at focus change -2, may be activated as a standard action, has a range of 60 ft., and infects a target with a fungus that deals constant acid and Constitution damage. Killing the target nets you growth points to floral allies within 60 ft. of the vanquished foe. At 8th level, masters of forms can choose the Rampant Growth form, which lets you bury instantly undeployed types of floral allies, or immediately max out growth points, at the cost of the floral ally dying after its next action. At -2 focus change, it can be escalated to -4 focus change, which lets you choose both effects AND the order in which they take place! Nice: Players with less experience get a full hint here how you can use this to combo! The -4 focus change form, Mulch, which requires 10th level, combos 1d6 acid damage per class level plus 1d6 fire damage per class level to a target within 60 ft., and if killed thus, you really boost the growth of your floral allies in range.

 

The pdf also features two new feats: Miracle Grower allows you, up to 5/day, grant a floral ally that would receive one growth point to get two instead. Vengeful Gardener lets you, when a floral ally is destroyed, perform the wood form associated with that ally (the one with “enhanced” before the name – they’re listed in the prerequisites) as an immediate action, without having to pay or gain the focus change of the form or having to meet the focus required. It also doesn’t, obviously, count towards the forms-per-round-limit. However, you may only do so once per day per form associated with your floral allies – once for shieldroot, once for tilling broadleaf, and once for buried wildthorn.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to interjection Games’ elegant two-column B7w-standard, and the pdf uses some nice b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Bradley Crouch’s wood-expansion for the master of forms is awesome. Full of combo-potential, the floral allies look weak at first, but with the right set-up and a capable master of forms, can make for the difference between life and death. With combo-potential and a very distinct flavor, this is a prime example of an excellent class-expansion pdf that is well worth its exceedingly low price. 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this great expansion for the master of forms class here on OBS!

 

Missed the Master of Forms? You can find the class here!

 

The shadow expansion for the class may be found here!

 

Want a compilation of Brad’s combo-classes? You can find that book here!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.