Jun 292016
 

GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I

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The first collection of the 20-things blogposts clocks in at 68 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page author bios/foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 59 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, before we start – you can get the content in this book on Raging Swan Press’ blog – Creighton publishes new small tables in regular intervals there, so if money’s tight, that may be an option. At the same time, though, you’d miss out on an extremely handy book. Let me reiterate: If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, it won’t be a surprise to you that I consider Raging Swan Press’ Dungeon and Wilderness Dressing books to be simply revolutionary. They are, frankly, the two books that have increased the quality of my games more so than any GM’s guide, any other book. No matter the system you prefer, if you even remotely are into fantasy roleplaying, I guarantee that these two books will rank among your most often used books ever. There is a reason they made my number 1 Top Ten spots. I am literally a better GM with them, in spite of having to translate the entries on the fly to German. Yes, these books are that good. They will be used for decades to come.

 

This book, then, would be pretty much the little brother of these tomes, providing a vast array of smaller tables to use in your games that seamlessly interact with the dressings sported in the two legendary tomes. The book is organized by environment, with the first chapter depicting tables that help you flesh out dungeons: From effects affecting evil altars to pieces of cavern dressing and notable cavern features, the details are copious and abundant also sport cool effects that have an actual effect on gameplay: Unstable floor, with falls broken by ice-cold water, remnants of platinum ore in the walls…there are some pretty awesome things to discover. Strange things that can be found in abandoned mines, alchemist’s laboratories, dusty crypts or the sanctums of dread necromancers – no matter the system you play, there is pure evocative gold to mine here. Tables of guardrooms, odd chests, unique triggers for secret doors – this book basically is the magnifying lens to add to the clarity already provided by the big books, the collection that sports the small details to the general renditions and particularly GMs weak on the improvisational side will adore this book for it.

 

What about a generator that can make up to 8000 pieces of graffiti to find on dungeon walls? But it’s not just dungeons that get their due: Strange traditions you can encounter in towns and build upon, different kinds of noxious stench (associated, perhaps, with the objects you can find in slums?), creepy happenstances you can stumble upon in haunted houses – a lot can be found herein. And yes, there is a table of sights for the iconic seedy tavern as well.

 

Beyond the confines of civilization lurks the wilderness eternally, and from sea voyages and coastal caves to complications for journeys through swamps and marshes or forests to flotsam washed upon the shore, these tables in no way remain behind the superb quality of the rest of this book.

 

For newer fans of Raging Swan Press, you may have already thought that this leaves out the relative newcomer to the dressing-fold , but no – this book also expands the concept of the “I loot the body”-series and extends it – beyond a general table, one for rogues and wizards, we also get more unique ones: I particularly enjoyed the tables for things to be found in purple worm stomachs, in owlbear’s lairs or within the very body of the gelatinous cube.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are, as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan Press, top-notch. I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork is nice b/w and the pdf comes in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one for the printer.

 

Creighton Broadhurst’s collection of tables…is stunning. You know, I actually lurk regularly on his blog and read what he has to say. I honestly wouldn’t need to buy this book…but, as with the big books, this is a false conclusion. Why? Because this book is a superb example for the importance of structure and organization: Much like its big brothers, this book excels by virtue of its absolutely superb organization.

 

You take the book, flip it open and booyah, awesome. It may just be me, but I frankly can’t derive the same sense of satisfaction from searching for a particular page; when I’m playing and I spontaneously need such a dressing-table, I don’t want to search – I want to flip open my book. This installment of the GM’s Miscellany-series is frankly no less inspired than its big brethren: If the big dressing books are the macrocosm, this provides the microcosm. As such, it has less entries for the more niche components, but to make up for that, the entries themselves are longer and more detailed, which is just what the doctor ordered as far as I’m concerned.

 

In short: I consider having this as either pdf or print just as vast an improvement for the game as the big books, though, by virtue of its size, obviously on a smaller scale. This does nothing whatsoever to diminish the superb quality of this offering, though. Hence, this book receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Get this great book!

 

You can get this great supplement here on OBS!

 

Want the system-neutral version? You can find that one here!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 292016
 

Miscellaneous Musings: Captain America – Civil War

 

So, I saw Captain America: Civil War. Before I embark on my ramblings, let me make one thing perfectly clear – I am not opposed to the MCU-movies; in fact, I want to see them prosper.

 

That being said, I left the movie theater with a distinct sense of being underwhelmed and somewhat disappointed. However, unlike in most such instances, it took me quite a while to properly analyze and digest the reasons for this. So, please bear with me as I try t rationalize why I wasn’t that blown away by this movie.

 

1) The Subject Matter

Civil War is not the best storyline to adapt to the silver screen. That being said, I expected levels of grimdark from this movie that *thankfully* were not there. For all of you none too familiar with comic books: Do you know how the storyline starts in the comic books? With the death of A LOT of children in basically what amounts to an appropriation of a super-based terrorist attack.

Yeah, I was pretty happy they didn’t go with that one…though this singularly gruesome event did do one thing right: It provided an adequate reason (alongside the machinations of a manipulating villain) for the moral conundrum the civil war storyline poses. Which brings me to the first component I wasn’t too keen on – the motivation. Tying the fallout from Avengers 2 to the storyline and eliminating, at least as far as we know by now, the component of malignancy behind the curtains, the very narrative emphasizes the aspect of collateral damage to a point where it detracts a bit from the high-energy and fun aspects some MCU-movies possess. From now on, we actually have to consider vast panoramas of destruction, the aspect of the spectacle we perceive in these movies, as something that may hurt innocents; beyond the examples where heroes save them to assert their hero status.

 

The spectacle aspect of this movie, similarly, is a good thing to talk about and the aspect of it I most readily identified as something I didn’t like that much. To me, this movie felt like Avengers 2.5, not like a Captain America movie. Why? Because Avengers-movies, when you boil it down to the basics, are about the spectacle. It’s the CGI-orgy, the bullet time-level of cliché that is the blue laser in the sky; it’s the awesome nerdy wish fulfillment of seeing one’s favorite heroes battle among themselves and with foes. I get it. I love it. In Avengers 1, the friendly fights between heroes were just AWESOME. In Avengers 2, they felt contrived. In Captain America: Civil War, I was face-palming. (At least former) friends who could solve the issue by simply talking (I know, doesn’t make for an exciting movie experience), trading blows instead of using their supposedly genius-level intellect…it just left a sour taste in my mouth and as much as I liked and enjoyed the sequence in itself, it felt, ultimately, like pandering.

 

2) Confused Leitmotifs

More confusing, perhaps, would be the fact on how character leitmotifs are structured. Regarding the way in which they are created, DC superheroes tend to exemplify and represent archetypes, whereas Marvel superheroes gravitate towards being characters defined by mastery and struggle: Ironman, to give you an example,is defined in both rogue’s gallery and character arcs, by the struggle of the inventor, the creative mind trying to maintain control over his creations: A vast array of Ironman’s rogue gallery (and all foes of the movies so far) are defined by an involvement with Stark’s inventions or the fallout they wrought. Making thus Tony Stark, the unconventional rebel character, the cutting edge scientist, the force for the more conservative side of the argument felt weird to me. Similarly Captain America, more so than other Marvel heroes, is closer to being an archetype: He is defined by his struggle for goodness, for the paladin’s ideal; he is the incarnation of values generally ascribed to Charlemagne’s grand knights, coupled with the ideals of, surprise, America and thus also aligned with the patriotic identity.

 

The aspect of the patriotic identity *is* the smartest component about the first two Captain American movies; the first one was a fun period piece, a great movie that hearkened back to the Golden and Silver Age of comic books, where villains were clearly defined and we could route sans issues for cap. We should. He is Marvel’s “boyscout”, Superman’s equivalent in the Marvel universe regarding his principles and unshakeable optimism. Even without the super-soldier serum, he is still the leader of the Avengers, by virtue of his ideals and unshakeable faith in his ideals. If you consider the DC vs. Marvel-crossover as canon, he and Batman exemplify the human spirit of the respective universes the most. This is also why Winter Soldier was such a stellar movie: It took this monolithic force of good, accustomed to being able to easily identify the bad guys into a complex, contemporary political landscape that is alien to him. He is, by virtue of thawing up, a relic of a bygone age…but a good one. He exemplifies our nostalgic craving for simpler structures and narratives…and he is the incarnation of what we want to be: He is the capital letters HERO. He is also the paladin, as mentioned above: More so than any other hero, Captain America is the representation of the good soldier (not in the Ford Madox Ford sense) – he is the soldier and the embodiment of the military we want to have: Kind, friendly, powerful, guided by unshakeable ideals, unwilling to compromise – in short, he is the shield of the weak and downtrodden, the representation of the benevolent aspect of big institutions and our government. Get it? He wears the shield, he IS the shield; it’s his spirit that is considered to be the original ideal.

 

When faced with the winter soldier, a remnant of his past failure, he did not compromise, even when it looked like he’d pay for that with his life. Similarly, when faced by corrupt institutions, Cap didn’t bow his head. He tried playing within the rules; he always does. When they’re twisted, he ignores them, but he does not deliberately flaunt the social contract or orders. This is pretty much one issue I have with the Civil War MCU-depiction; I can’t really picture a scenario wherein Captain America’s position within the Civil War storyline makes sense; Captain America never did sport a greater good/personal agenda-driven decision making process, which makes his position and behavior with regards to the Winter Soldier, at least to me, edgy for edginess’s sake

 

3) Tired of the Formula

That is more of a fear and an observation – I may have tired of most superhero movies, at least in their current iteration. While I actually enjoyed the schlocky, logic-hole-riddled mess Avengers 2 more than its prequel, I just can’t get excited by CGI’d battle scenes where everything explodes and goes boom anymore. Worse, even the fights among my favorite superheroes no longer truly excite me; after 3 movies sporting them in just a couple of years, I frankly am not excited by the prospect anymore, particularly if the writers can’t be bothered to create a proper reason for them to trade blows, an issue one can observe in Avengers 2, Civil War and the mess that is Bats vs. Supes. Then again, there may be hope for me; I may not have gone full hipster yet: After all, I really, really loved Antman and Guardians of the Galaxy and while Deadpool was funny and not as cool as those two, I had a blast watching it and enjoyed the unapologetic R-rated action movie it represents. I seem to be not the only one. Deviations from the formula, truly creative hero combats (Antman!) and simply FUN movies are great…and it is my sincere hope that MCU now doesn’t start to follow this grimdark, pseudo-realistic trek.

 

4) Pseudo-realism fails

The fourth point is the most flimsy point I have, a wholly subjective experience. So, the plan is to grant the UN control over the decision making process to deploy superheroes? SERIOUSLY? So, provided that works, the heroes have to phone in threats, politicians decide in a huge referendum and THEN they’re deployed? Only ruins will remain at this point if the adversary isn’t sloth-man. And who is to stop them if they refuse? I mean, seriously?

The UN probably wouldn’t be capable of handling one of the stronger heroes, much less multiple ones while all the villains run havoc. Up to this moment, Marvel’s movies were defined by the simplified logic of comic-books, where politics, ideologies and the like do not take center stage; they were, in a nutshell, escapism and worked perfectly as such. Similarly, the Nolan-trilogy of Batman movies worked because its premise was to NOT be focused on escapism. Sure, it was a component of its appeal, but it retained its “realism”, if you will. In contrast to Captain America, we can accept the grim tone of the series, because it’s what we signed up for. After Civil War, all the explosions and effect-spectacles of previous Marvel movies suddenly are no longer popcorn-munching seconds of just enjoying the barrage of images. With the moral component introduced, we lose the innocence of comic book logic and have realism intrude upon the carefully nurtured, fun escapism. Personally, I don’t think Marvel movies do this well. They excel at being simple, fun tales…not at being thought-provoking exercises of abyss-gazing.

 

If anything, watching Civil War has shown me that I’m a much bigger fan of what Captain America is supposed to represent, of his ideals, than I consciously realized. I certainly hope we’ll see a “proper” new Captain America movie. Do I think one should see the movie? Yes. While it may fail as a Captain America movie, it is, paradoxically, a better Avengers movie than the 2 Avengers movies. I am also hoping that this is the dark middle chapter of the MCU metaplot and that we’ll get some less grim tales in the future…speaking of which: If DC f**** up Suicide Squad, I’ll be a ball of unmitigated nerd rage…

 

On another note: How did you enjoy Civil War? Do you think I’m overanalyzing the movie? Do you have a diverging opinion? If you do, feel free to comment below and we’ll discuss this!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 282016
 

In the Company of Treants

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The latest installment of Rite Publishing’s massive “In the Company”-series for playable monster races clocks in at a massive 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 43 (!!!) pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

Unlike most of these books, we do not begin with the in-character prose that guides us through the book itself – instead, we start with author Jonathan McAnulty noting taking us a long on a short trip through his mind and past, explaining why this book exists in the first place – and personally, I like that. It makes the book feel…well, more direct and establishes a context and theme against which one may process the following information.

 

After this, we dive right into what has by now become a crucial part of the identity of this series, namely the fact that it reads very well: The introduction to the playable treants featured in this book is narrated by a member of the race, structured alongside a song of the treants, as the narrator explains the mythology, the role of shepherds of trees and then proceeds to detail the life-cycles of treants, misconceptions of other races, the unique society, ethics and relationships with other races. This whole section is provided in stunning, captivating prose and extends its level of detail to nomenclature to the finer details as well, resulting in a truly captivating experience as far as reading material is concerned.

 

Now, an important component of the treant as depicted here is that the treants are plants, yes…but the plant traits, very powerful as a default, have been modified for balance’s sake, which is a pretty big (and smart) decision right then and there. Unlike previous installments of the series, the treants provided herein actually are not simply one race: There are multiple options to choose from, the first of which would be the birchwalker.

 

Birchwalkers gain immunity to humanoid-targeting effects, paralysis, stunning and sleep effects as well as +1 + 1/2 HD to saves versus charms, compulsions, morale effects, patterns, phantasms and polymorph effects – these would be the modified plant traits mentioned above. They get +2 Con and Cha, -2 Wis, low-light vision and are always awake, though their spell preparation etc. work via a meditation, though this does not include penalties to Perception for sleeping. Birchwalkers gain +2 natural armor and are resilient versus starvation, suffocation etc. – they get +4 to Con-checks to avoid the like and gain +2 to Diplomacy, Appraise and Craft. (Here, a cosmetic formatting glitch has crept in, with the artisan racial trait not beginning in a new line; cosmetic, though and not a reason to harp on the pdf. Birchwalkers get +4 to Knowledge (Nature) pertaining trees and armor made for them costs twice as much. They also take +50% fire damage. Alternate racial trait-wise, they can have a slightly faster speed (and minor bonuses versus trip and bull-rush), +2 to Knowledge (nature), +4 to Diplomacy and Knowledge (local) or +4 to Profession (orcharist), increasing a region’s plant productivity 1/year via plant growth-y tricks.

The second version of treant we get is the oakheart, who gets the same modified plant traits as well as +2 Str and Wis, -2 Dex, only 20 ft. movement rate (that is never diminished), cannot run, is always awake, gains low-light vision, +2 natural armor, the same photosynthesis-bonus versus starvation/suffocation/etc. (and yes, they still require sustenance!), speak with plants at will, +2 to saves versus spells, SPs and poisons, +2 to CMD vs. bull-rush and trip and the same Knowledge (nature) bonus to deal with trees. They also share the requirements for more expensive armor and being flammable. Alternate racial trait-wise, they can get +2 to Diplomacy and Knowledge (local), 1/day wood shape, +2 to saves versus electricity, cold and heat-based saves or an increased natural AC at the cost of further reducing movement rate, down to 15 ft.

 

Pretty cool and a nice showcase of 3pp-camraderie – instead of simply replicating another author’s work or generating redundancy, there is also the seedlings included. First written by Marie Small and then published by Jon Brazer Enterprises, these characters would be the option to use if you wanted less powerful base race stats and are the version you’ll take for the low-fantasy campaigns. While seedling-material is obviously included herein, the original book is by no means redundant and can be pictured as a nice companion-pdf to this book. It’s great to see Rite Publishing giving credit where credit is due.

 

That’s still not all, though – there is a FOURTH race of treants in this book, the Willowkin. These fellows also get the modified plant-traits, +2 Dex and Int, -2 Con, darkvision 30 ft, low-light vision, +1 natural armor, photosynthesis, they can speak with plants at will, gain +2 to CMB when making trips and +1 initiative, +2 to Spellcraft checks as well as +1 DC when casting SPs and enchantment spells (not that big a fan of the SP-caveat since I know a couple of classes that cast exclusively SPs…) and 3/day daze, I assume as an SP – the trait doesn’t specify, which makes figuring out the DC slightly more opaque than it should be. They also suffer from the more expensive armor and flammable drawbacks like their brethren. While their write-up, like those before, sports some of the cosmetic glitches, I noticed no formal ones. Alternate trait wise, they can get keen senses, +2 to Acrobatics (which should be capitalized, not lower-case) at the cost of natural armor, tremorsense 5 ft. instead of darkvision and 1/day healing by putting his feet/roots into water – which is a damn cool image.

 

The pdf provides a significant array of favored class options, but class-specific ones and general ones and then proceeds to provide racial archetypes, the first of which would be the Primal Forest Guardian, a treant barbarian that gets a modified skill-list and proficiency-list. Instead of uncanny dodge, improved uncanny dodge and DR, the archetype gains +1 natural AC per level and +1 DR/- per 2 levels, but also pays for this enhanced defense with reduced numbers of rage per day. Instead of fast movement, they become particularly adept at hurling boulders, trees, etc, increasing the damage output of these at higher levels and they begin play with a slam attack that scales in base damage. Pretty cool: At 11th level, the guardian can elect to forego iterative attacks in favor of an additional slam attack at full BAB, which improves the flow of combat. They do, however, gain less rage powers. Unique: The barbarian actually grows in size, up to Gargantuan at 20th level, with minor attribute bonuses and a single Dex-loss accompanying this feature. Bonus damage versus inanimate objects is nice, but more interesting would be that prolonged rages may animate trees in the vicinity of the primal guardian.

 

If you’ve read the above, you may have begun already contemplating how treant growth and multiclassing work – for you’d be correct in the assumption that all the archetypes herein indeed do sport such options. Their interaction is handled with a rather nice, explanatory sidebox that provides concise and succinct guidelines for the GM and players. Kudos!

 

The verdant healer would be the treant cleric and, like the barbarian, the archetype receives a modified list of skills and proficiencies and is locked into the healing domain as well as one domain of the player’s choice from a brief list. Verdant Healers cannot channel positive energy to harm undead and gain 1/2 their class level to Heal-checks. They gain a scaling slam attack as well as natural armor bonuses that increase every 2 levels, with high levels also providing a bit of DR. At 3rd level, the archetype gains the option to use channel energy as a touch instead, which heals slightly above the median of rolls for regular beings, 6s for plants and allows the healer to even treat attribute damage and at the highest levels, raise dead. Think of this as a channel powered alternate lay-on-hands/mercy-ish option. They also are experts at brewing potions and gain, as mentioned above, growth, though size-wise, they cap out at Huge at level 20.

 

The tree master druid takes the tree animation one step further in a bonded forest and would probably be the incarnation of the treant character concept you think of first. This ability is powered by the quickening point pool, here equal to 2 + Charisma modifier, +2 per class level gained. This concept, just fyi, can be found in quite a few of the archetypes herein, with information on pool-behavior when multiclassing being provided as well. Obviously, wild shape is focused on plant shape iterations for a tonal consistency. The fighter archetype provided herein focuses on a combination of tanking akin to the barbarian brother and a focus on hurling devastating stones. The earthborn kineticist is locked into earth (geokinesis) as primary element and gains basic geokinesis as a wild talent and burn gets an interesting modification: Earth-related burn is reduced by 1 to a minimum of 1, while fire-related burn is increased by 1. Burn can also be accepted in order to temporarily increase the kineticist’s defensive capabilities and they may infuse the power of earth in their slams.

 

The serene master would be atreant monk (which is a pretty powerful option, considering the fact that the armor-restriction is null and void for those guys) – and the combo of modified monk-AC-rules and AC-scaling means, ultimately, that these guys end up with better capabilities to survive the rigors of adventuring. While they do not gain stunning fist (thus locking them out of quite a few archetypes and tricks that use Stunning Fist as a resource), their damage-output is increased. Now here is an interesting option: At 4th level, they can deliver attacks by proxy via trees, allowing them to be supremely lethal combatants in forests. I was pretty skeptical about this one, but it ended up being rather cool, so kudos! (And yes, ki-powered, but balanced regeneration is included, though the ability lacks an activation action.) At higher levels, these guys can also swap places with trees. Prophets of the Glades oracles gain the new deep woods mystery, which sports among its revelations true strike-ish benefits alongside rock throwing as well as establishing an effect that lets your survey a tree and share damage with it…which certainly is powerful, but also evocative and in line with the treant mythology established in fiction. As a minor cosmetic nitpick, that one’s name isn’t italicized. Pretty cool would also be the second mystery, the weather mystery, which grants you bonuses depending on the current weather! You know…I actually really like this idea! Windy day? Your bonus applies to Dex. Cloudy? Wisdom. I think there’s a class concept here. Three sample curses for treant oracles, from being hollow to being fire-scarred or stunted can be found as well.

 

More classic and in line with what you’d expect is the Woodland Stalker, a pretty straightforward ranger with treant-y abilities. The wald walker rogue is interesting in that it may, among other options, flank with trees a limited amount of times per day and has quite an array of nice, unique talents. The skald archetype provided similarly uses the treant-y tricks like slam attacks and hurling stones, but supplements them with unique performances. The arcane classes aren’t left out either: Sorcerors can gain two new bloodlines, the ley line and fey woods bloodlines; the first featuring healing capabilities for the sorceror and the second being more closely aligned with classic tricks, including a vanilla quickening directed tree attack. Finally, the verdant scholar wizard gets a bonded tree that can aid him when making magic items and divide damage between him and the tree. Additionally, a selection of unique arcane discoveries are provided for the archetye. This one surprised me. Why? Because the bonded tree is narrative GOLD. “Look, the leaves of our protector’s tree are falling…a great calamity is approaching” or “Defend the sacred tree of our guardian!”…damn cool and made me come up with multiple, cool ideas.

 

The pdf, as has become the tradition with this series, features a racial paragon class, the tree shepherd. Tree shepherds get d8 HD, 4+Int skills, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort-saves, proficiency with clubs, great clubs, spears, stones and slings. They begin play with the option to supernaturally animate trees with a range of 50 ft + 10 ft. per level, powered by 4 + Cha-mod quickening points, which are expanded by +3 per level thereafter. The animation takes one full round for the tree to uproot itself, though somewhat annoyingly, the ability does not specifically call that it requires the tree shepherd to expend this action, which means that the activation-action component of the ability could be clearer. The number of trees simultaneously animated and their power increases at higher levels. If a tree is left beyond the radius, it roots itself, but you do not need to spend quickening points again to reanimate it while the original duration persists. Charisma governs the number of trees a shepherd can have activated at a given time. The class also features forest stealth (+class level) while in forests as well as the scaling AC and DR-bonuses some archetypes featured as well. Obviously, the iconic slams and stone hurling can be found as well and tree shepherds get the powerful savage growth of treant barbarians, which means they cap out at Gargantuan size at 20th level.

 

At 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the paragon class gains a forest gift, which would be the talent-selection within this build: The talents themselves run a broad gamut of tricks: Moving a whole forest via quickening expenditure at high levels? Yup. Summoning elementals (maximum power based on shepherd size and point expenditure) may be nice, but personally, I *really* like the option to call forth mist in a 1-mile radius. Sure, only 60 feet visibility…but I know my players will LOVE this one….and visibility can be further reduced via additional points. Now get a character with mist sight and you have a great setup for a brutal infiltration. Conjuring forth an exhaustion-mitigating spring that also heals, gaining greensight or benefits depending on the season (YES!) render this class, alongside the numerous attribute bonuses, versatile and strong, but fitting for just about every campaign. In fact, I’d probably recommend it more for a lower magic environment that emphasizes magic as something mystical rather than as something common.

 

That’s not even close to what this book has to offer, though: Beyond detailed age. height and weight tables, we get information on treant food and unique mundane and magical items: From fire extinguishing chalky powder to living chests or treant brew rations, there is a lot of cultural uniqueness to be found here.

 

Speaking of which: The new feat-section, featuring the options to animate vines and bushes, increase your photosynthesis as well as multiple styles render this section rather neat. Beyond the significant array of feats, rules for crafting vine traps alongside 8 sample plant traps (CRs range from 1 to 5) complement the well-ingrained ideas we have on treants. Bowls of light that enhance nearby plants, clubs that can be animated via quickening points or enchanted, returning rocks – the magic items are similarly uncommon and fitting. The pdf goes one step beyond, though, and provides a 20-level NPC class at full BAB-progression, good Fort-save, d8 and 2+Int skills for NPC-treants – which reduces the tricky bits of the previous archetypes to the base and may be a nice option for low-powered campaigns that want a manageable, straightforward treant-PC.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good; on a formal level and regarding rules-language, there isn’t much to complain apart from a few hiccups. Formatting-wise, the pdf similarly sports a couple of minor issues, with in particular line breaks between abilities not being always clear – one more pass in those two disciplines would have made the book a bit more streamlined. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard with branchy-graphic elements based on public domain art in the margin, providing a nice, fitting aesthetics here. The full-color artworks in the book seem to be not only original, they also are rather beautiful. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Oh boy, this was work. But also a rather joyous occasion, at least for me. Why? Because I’m honestly glad Jonathan McAnulty has once again written a big, whopping book. Then, I started thinking about treants and started shuddering. I mean, seriously? How can you maintain their power and evocative tricks and retain a sense of balance? It seems like a losing game, no matter what you do: Get rid of the plant traits and the high-power games while whine; don’t get rid of them and the low-powered games will start yelling “unabalnced!”. How does this book solve this conundrum? Simple. In the best way possible. It’s all in here. Want a high-powered treant? Go for birchwalker. If you’re like me and like races to have powers and drawbacks and a unique flair, go for the oakheart. Want a more agile one? Willowkin. Something in line with the core races? Seedling. Better yet, the racial paragon class and archetypes generally sport the “treant”-feeling. They are not simply general archetypes with a racial coat – they feel and play distinctly unique, they are fitting for the races. The cornucopia of supplement information and fluff further enhance this book and render it, as far as player-agenda, table-variation and the pure imaginative potential is concerned, one of my favorites. The mile-mist…the moving of trees…beyond mathfinder abilities (which are there, fret not, my fellow crunchers!), this pdf offers great storytelling devices that may actually be useful above and beyond the limitations of the system. This book codifies what we know of treants from literature and our cultural unconsciousness and provides the definite book on playing the masters of the woods and, personally, my favorite in the whole line alongside the rakshasa-book. That being said, there are a couple of glitches herein, some of which pertain to ability activation and thus, the rules-language. While one can usually glean what they are supposed to be, that does remain as a minor drawback- Mind you, these glitches are few…but they’re there.

 

So…let me reiterate that: As a *person*, I absolutely adore this book, particularly the extensive means to customize treants to make them viable for just about any campaign. As a reviewer, however, I can’t let the glitches that are here slide…and thus, I’d arrive at a final verdict of 4.5 stars. I do know, however, that quite a few of you out there tend to share my opinions and prefer evocative, unique options that emphasize a cohesive theme over formal perfection of bland content. Hence, I will round up for the purpose of all the platforms – this pdf has its heart at the right spot and is a fun, great read that will make you want to call forth the shambling, ponderous masters of the forests deep.

 

You can get this massive book here on OBS…and I have it on good source that no treants were harmed making it!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 282016
 

Mini-Dungeon: Heart of the Sacred Dawn

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

 

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

 

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

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Still here?

All right!

In ages long gone, the lord of dragons Tenebrash was vanquished by the order of sacred dawn with the help of an ancient relic, the lucespel. Now, evil has returned to the lands of mortals and it is up to the heroes to find and secure the lucespel within the confines of the now ruined temple-keep of the order of sacred dawn. The deity once in command of the artifact remains purposefully obscure and can be considered to be a great placeholder for deities from Saranrae to Latander or Arden. Within these sacred halls, only the mightiest of heroes have a chance to prove their mettle – to do so, they must defeat exceedingly powerful knights turned to spirit of adoration. The ruins also sport a riddle that requires the PCs to collect certain words, which prove to be the answer to a simple riddle. When solved a templated great black wyrm dread ghost still stands between the PCs and triumph…oh, and that one downright sadistic trap…that, RAW, is even triggered when the correct key has been taken, which *may* be an oversight. 3 x Power Word: Kill at CL 20 is nasty and probably should not be triggered when the correct key is used. Similarly, that should be a trap or at least a haunt; the pdf has a tough option for legendary rogues to bypass the boss fight, but not to find and disarm the killer-magic…which could result in some complaining. Beyond these secured portals, the artifact beckons – though its exact powers are left for the GM to decide.

 

Conclusion:

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

 

Justin Andrew Mason’s Heart of the Sacred Dawn is a mini-dungeon we can *really* use. Why? Simple: We don’t have a lot of quality high-level material. The added requirements of high-level gameplay are tough to master and conversely, this pdf doesn’t have the space to provide elaborate notes on the certainty of teleportation et al. That being said, the challenges are flavorful and diverse, with the kill-trap’s trigger in either case being my one true structural gripe beyond wishing that the exploration required some more uses of high-level tricks and abilities. Apart from the combat challenges and overkill-kinda-trap, the module could be handled by lower level PCs as well.

 

How to rate this? Well, while not perfect, this constitutes a fun diversion for high-level PCs and in the hand of a good GM, this can be a pretty cool insertion. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this nice high-level module here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 272016
 

Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book (OSR)

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This massive rule-book clocks in at 144 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page list of tables (important!), 6 pages of supporter-thanks, 1 page legal appendix, 1 page note-space, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 130 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Ähem. I feel old. 😉 This is my birthday-review, my present from myself to myself, so please bear with me regarding the obvious deviation from my usual standard regarding reviewing. Kidding aside regarding age and the like…when I started playing, believe it or not, you young ‘uns, the game didn’t have that much to do with math. Sure, we needed it. But in contrast to taking hours upon hours to properly calculate the statblock of high-level foe xyz, those were simpler times. Heck, for the first 6+ years of my playing career, I didn’t use any kind of battlemap…go wrap your head around this!

 

Why am I telling you this? Well, because this book basically represents the game I grew into gaming with; this is the old-school simple and distilled version of gaming. No looking up feats, no looking up complex interactions, no optimization. Different level-up caps for different classes. Fixed saving throws determined by level…next to no means to power-game and a lot of house-rules that continuously grew.

 

Okay, so what does this provide? Well, we already have the 6 classic attributes. Strength determines chances to kick open doors and modify carrying capacity, with melee to hit and damage modifiers ranging from -2 to +2 and -1 to +3, respectively. Fighters can use Strength for ranged weapons…if you follow the original rules. Constitution determines your chance to survive being raised from the dead…and nets you anything from -1 to +1 hit points per HD. High Charisma and Wisdom net you bonus XP (wrap your head around that!) and Dex, obviously, is important for all the thief tricks. Thief? Yup, once upon a time, it was thief, not rogue, ladies and gentlemen.

 

The classes provided herein cover the assassin, cleric, druid, fighter, magic-user, monk, paladin, ranger and thief…and yes, astute reader: Some of these are simply better than others. Why? Because back in the day, you needed damn good stats to qualify for some of them – which is still represented in optional rules. (Yep, that’s where the “paladins are rare and all good-looking”-trope came from; Cha 17+ minimum. 18, btw., is the maximum you’ll get with your 3d6…

 

Similarly, dual-classing and multiclassing are two different experiences, with dual-class characters requiring much more XP…but I digress. Non-human races often have an advancement cap for classes, but once again, alternate rules for this less beloved feature are presented. Oh, know what’s also tricky: All classes cap HP at one point; depending on your class, you’ll thereafter only get a single hit point per level.

 

While this may *sound* annoying, it’s not – it keep the dreaded high-number mathematical breakdown all contemporary systems suffer from at bay. Oh, and alignment? Law, Neutrality, Chaos. That’s it.

 

Okay, so item-purchases and equipment work pretty much as expected…but what about AC? There are two ways and two camps on how to handle the concept: Ascending and Descending AC. When you use descending armor as a rule, each character gets an unarmed AC of 9, with the lower results being better – a plate would net you -6 AC, for example. Ascending is pretty much the opposite and works like just about all contemporary systems in the d20-arena: 10 + value. Such stats are provided in brackets. So, whether you prefer one of the other, this book has you covered. Movement rate is similarly simple on ground and overland movement.

 

Swords and Wizardry, however, is NOT a simple reproduction – it streamlines and takes away some of the needlessly clunky components: Saves and XP, for example, both of which, frankly, have been sources of endless consternations among my players. (“Why is that a save versus spells and not deathrays?”) So no, this is not simply an exercise in nostalgia. The round and its breakdown, swift and quick, is also presented in a concise manner – with multiple alternatives for specific tables. That being said, I really think a flat Attack-bonus would have been the simpler choice regarding attack rolls. Why? Because you have to consult massive tables dependant on the class to determine whether you hit or not. Sure, it’s not rocket science…but it’s a component I do not use in my OSR-games…boo and hiss, I use an atk-bonus. 😉

 

Still, do not take this is criticism on a formal level – it is just me stating a preference. Before I go on a further tangent or you stop reading – when using ascending AC, an imho easier to grasp table and one that does work well, and does the job admirably. Similarly, my games do have neutral clerics – an eventuality btw. also covered in alternate rules/referee-suggestions. Sample stronholds and information on hirelings complement this section…and then, there are SPELLS. A metric ton of SPELLS. They have a name. A range. A level. A duration. That’s it. Simple and to the point.

 

This is where the referee section begins and it is this section alone that may be worth the download. Why? Because, beyond general and sound advice for GMs, the section actually sports multiple, nice dungeon-maps as well as tables upon tables you can use to generate creatures. Similarly, wilderness encounters and movement rates are covered…oh. And yes. Mass combat and siege combat. And unlike pathfinder’s impotent, sucky siege engines (I house-ruled those so that PCs actually fear them), they friggin’ kill you. Trebuchet hits you? You’re DEAD. No, seriously. Game over, man. Game over. Call me a bastard GM…but I like that. Even Aerial Combat gets its section and is handled simply via maximum course alterations and minimum space between alterations – that’s it. And while this may sound simple, it actually is a pretty ingenious system to make compelling dogfights.

 

And yes, before you ask, naval combat is here as well. These are the complete rules, so this book also sports an array of monster stats and advice on creating them – and if there is one thing that is a weakness of this book…well, alas, it’s this section. You see, sans the massive math-laden statblocks, old-school games did tend to prosper in the fluff departments; where monsters had ecologies, societies, tactics etc. all spelled out in lavish detail, often inspiring the referee. You won’t find that here. You only get the hard, cold and brief statblocks. That’s it. The magic item-section on handing out treasure and the appropriate tables (yes, including cursed items) follow a similarly minimalistic approach – one suitable for the core book, yes…but also perhaps the one aspect where the book does not excel as much as in the previous sections.

 

The pdf, obviously, does feature a char-sheet, btw….and an impressive, very detailed index that makes using this book very easy.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column b/w-standard with a ton of new b/w-artworks that breathe the tradition of the classic – including ample wizards in pointy hats. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and yes, ladies and gentlemen…the Erol Otus cover alone may be worth downloading this. Unfortunately, I don’t have the print version of this book…but I *do* own a ton of Frog God Games-material and they *ALWAYS* are great books.

 

Dennis Sustare, Marv Breig, Jason Cone, Allan T. Grohe Jr., Jerry Mapes, Bill Webb and Matthew Finch have created perhaps the best OSR-version for classic, fantasy roleplaying…and beyond simply being a highly customizable, easy to learn system, it affords for a great change of pace when you find yourself tired out by too many statblocks to crunch. This very much is not only a blast from the past, it is a great system to teach roleplaying…because it’s simple. It’s simple and elegant in its design without being restrictive. The “referee has the last call” rule trumps all and there frankly isn’t much wiggle-room to power-game. This is delightfully easy to grasp and master and in presentation and quality a superb offering.

 

Oh, and it’s FREE. As in: Doesn’t cost a single damn dime. As in FREE. It takes the disparate classic rules and streamlines them without eliminating their wealth of options. Swords & Wizardry is, for traditional fantasy, my go-to OSR-rules-system and I wholeheartedly encourage you to check this out…who knows, perhaps you’ll have an eureka effect as well; either because you haven’t played a system this rules-light…or perhaps because you forgot how much FUN it actually can be. It’s a different type of fun, when compared to the new systems, sure. But it is one I never want to miss, a type of game I’ll always gladly return to. Get this. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this great, massive book here on OBS and here on tabletoplibrary for FREE!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 272016
 

Lands of Porphyra Campaign Setting

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This massive campaign setting clocks in at 214 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 219 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Porphyra…Purple Duck Games’ in-house setting is massive, it’s regional (and extremely crunchy) player’s guide clocking in regularly at 60+ pages…and unlike most campaign settings, this world was not crowdfunded…it just slowly, steadily, came to be…which is an impressive feat in my book. Anyways, Porphyra’s details and unique components are many and have been suffusing Purple Duck Games-supplements for years: Whether it’s the unique mini-game arabakmpsi, the lovecraft gaming toolkit or other offerings – never obtrusive, but the hints, the nods were there. More so than the player-option-centric “…of Porphyra”-series, both the great Purple Mountain dungeon-crawl-AP and books on deities and elemental lords, all open content, mind you, have already shown a vast potential.

 

Then again, such a wide variety of different environments and ideas could be jarring, right? Well…no. You see, there is a reason Porphyra is called the patchwork-planet…and it’s more pronounced than in similar settings. Let me elaborate: When TSR generated some of the grand classics we all have come to know and love, from Planescape to Ravenloft, they split their customer-base…which was one among many factors that led inevitably to the end of the company. (And yes, I am aware of the other countless number of issues…but that would go beyond the scope of this review.) The lesson that most RPG-companies took from this was simple: Focus on a core world, but allow for maximum customization within that world. Most famously and successfully, we can see that approach in Golarion: There is Ravenloft-country, science-fantasy country, magic metropolis, pirate-country, Greyhawk-ish borderland/bandit kingdom-ish regions…you get the idea. Golarion, while certainly not perfect, ended up being a truly astonishing, fascinating setting that maintains a level of consistency in spite of this tonal patchwork. Not the best consistency, sure – but that’s a system-immanent issue; one can’t have the cake and eat it, too. What I’m trying to say here is, that I like Golarion. It’s a patchwork, but a nice one. Which brings me back to Porphyra…which is *also* a patchwork…so what’s the unique selling proposition of Porphyra versus Golarion?

 

The answer to that question is more complex than one would expect it to be. In order to answer it, I’ll have to go a bit into the history of Porphyra, so bear with me while I give you the woefully oversimplified cliff notes-version of the setting’s history, all right? The history of Porphyra features a dominance of the faith in elemental lords in the past as well as a successful effort to smash the invading forces of the Great Old Ones – from these wars and the faith in the forces of the elements, the Zendiqi erected an empire that dominated the small planet…until a coalition of orcs and elves spoke THE WORD to fight the oppressors. THE WORD beckoned and sundered dimensional barriers, issuing the so-called “Calling” throughout the multiverse, speaking to deities and calling them to Porphyra – for the first time, the gods had come to the world and the elemental lords were no longer uncontested masters of all they oversaw…for the deities did not arrive alone. The gods from worlds far and wide brought with them a plethora of lands, forever changing the nature of Porphyra itself, tacking them on with the eponymous mystical mineral porphyrite…purple glowing borders, seams now were part of the daily reality…and a religious and cultural clash of heretofore unseen proportions shook Porphyra to its very core, as the NewGod War raged and the armies of genies and elementals fought the deists and their outsiders. The war was brutal, bloody and its effects can be seen to this date, more than 800 hundred years later, in the lands of Porphyra.

 

It is due to the porphyrite borders that arctic environments can exist alongside simmering deserts…and, GM’s willingness provided, the borders can limit e.g. bacteria or similar micro-organisms as well, allowing for potentially interesting explanations on why and how a given place managed to stand the test of time with superior, hostile forces nearby. Basically, this is a twist on domain-borders taken to its logical extreme in a high-fantasy context…and it works. Instead of trying to hide the discrepancy between lands and their themes, Porphyra embraces them, highlights them in a big, purple marker and makes them part of the storyline…which is a big, big difference in comparison to Golarion.

 

Similarly, the time-scale of the settings is different: Porphyra’s current equilibrium does not change the fact that it has, per default, not a ton of fallen empires written into it. It’s, as far as a campaign setting is concerned, a pretty young world. But isn’t it missing out on something? Well…no. The patchwork nature of the world allows GMs to pretty seamlessly integrate e.g. different serpentfolk empires. “Yuan-ti? But I thought Serpentfolk were the Valossians?” – “Well, they are…in that landed territory over there. Here, on this side of the porphyrite border, we fought the yuan-ti…” The very nature of the setting makes plug-and-playing even relatively lore-heavy modules a relatively simple endeavors. And yes, I’m one of the GMs that takes longer for the fluff-conversion of modules than for the conversion of their crunch…I’m that picky in this regard and I know that at least some of you out there are as well…so yeah. Porphyra does this very well. Passing such a border, just fyi, can be accomplished by a 1st-level spell…usually.

 

The second component that sets Porphyra apart, and more so that the aforementioned patchwork-component, would be the direct consequence of the nature of its form: With all those deities and their lands, we also obviously have introduced races to Porphyra. Beyond the new races featured in the respective regional player’s guides, the setting has its own racial hardcover, Fehr’s Ethnology, which actually does feature a couple of my favorite PC-races alongside some less interesting ones. Speaking of races: Erkunae? Yup. Included here. And the sciene-fantasy component I mentioned? Well, there is the Advent Imperiax, born from the crash of a powerful space-ship, but I’ll go into more details regarding that region in my upcoming review of that area’s Player’s Guide. The plethora of origin myths and stories thus mean that the setting, from the get-go, assumes an organic, pretty concise baseline to make the vast array of races and cultures work in an oddly sensible way. Know hoe obscure new half dhampir/half construct race XYZ never popped up before in your campaign, but how a new book introduced it? Well, in Porphyra, the sudden appearance of such individuals and new races can be rationalized much easier than in most settings.

 

From the blistering Siwathi desert to the classic and less weird Middle Kingdoms or the Birdman Mountains, the respective regions of Porphyra are depicted with sample intrigues (adventure/campaign hooks) to make use of them – from the empire of the dead to the swampy Fenian Triarchy, Freeport, the Hinterlands of Kesh and the Frozen North, Porphyra has a place to stick basically any module or supplement, any type of module but those reliant on geopolitical struggles without any hassle. (And frankly, even these are relatively easy to insert…and you could always judge parts of the world to have been ripped to Porphyra…) While the massive map of the world has btw. not been included (but can be found for PWYW here), the book sports an ample array of full-color maps of the respective regions and current events for the regions paint a picture of a world in flux.

 

There is another thing that makes Porphyra interesting in my book: Know how Dreamscarred pPress’ campaign setting and Third Dawn AP is stalling and taking a long time to finish? Well…Porphyra has psionics integrated into its framework from the get-go. You can ignore it, sure…but seriously, Ultimate Psionics is one of the best books you can get in the crunch-departments..so personally, I’d suggest running Porphyra as intended, with full psionics support. Similarly, animal-headed anumi and the other remarkable races by Alluria Publishing are actually part of the Porphyra-canon. With so many races, a summary of races by region (with distinctions of landed and native). Rules-wise, the pdf also provides the Pantheist cleric, who gets more domains (3) and favored weapons, but at the cost of spells per day. The book also sports brief sketches of the deities (though, for more information, you should really check out the gods-book!) alongside their holy symbols. These religions also come with numerous new faith traits – none of which sported any significant issues, though different authors become very much apparent here – some lacked the proper trait bonus type, while others had it, showing a discrepancy in rules-language handling skills.

 

The time on Porphyra, the days, trade and the basic value of spells cast provide components you can easily scavenge for other games, with alternate currency ideas, unique flora and fauna and detailed information on the languages spoken lending a level of credibility to the setting as a whole, despite of its patchwork premise. Holidays, including rules-relevant effects and weather phenomena, from hurricanes to glass seas, are similarly covered, and moon-based magic, chaos magic, rune magic, covenant magic, word magic – you name it, it’s probably here. Beyond an array of domains and subdomains, basic advice on psionics and several organizations complement the vast panorama depicted in this book: From the Brothers of the Blue Star to the Cordionic Knights-Errant or the Illuminates of Chaos, there are quite a few organizations in this book; something all too often neglected in campaign settings.

 

Beyond 3 PrCs (think tanky deist quasi paladin-knight that only needs to be lawful; juju-gunslingers and self-destructive fanatic, zendiqi), the pdf sports a vast array of traits and campaign traits (with similar minor hiccups as mentioned before). Beyond these, sketches of personalities to interact with, including items of note, notes on what the NPC is famous for and mini-hooks.

 

As many a campaign setting, this one also features a brief introductory module, for 1st level characters. The module is set in the Middle Kingdoms, perhaps the most traditional region of the world. Similarly, the module as such is pretty traditional in its structure: By exploring the eponymous ruins of Greencastle, the PCs may manage to unearth the truth of how the fortress fell and a rather dire secret I am not going to spoil here. The enemy-choices are my highlights here, giving some seldom-seen foes a chance to shine, though I should mention that, in general, this is a pretty straightforward, solidly challenging dungeon-crawl. Not more, but also not less. The full-color maps are nice, though player-friendly maps would have been appreciated.

 

The pdf also provides a list of Porphyra-related books, explanations on porphyran nomenclature, elemental and protean lords as well as a massive, detailed index – which is incredibly important for a book of this size and information density.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, bordering on very good. While I noticed a couple of typos and minor hiccups here and there, the book generally proved to be an enjoyable read that was not marred unduly by glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ printer-friendly two-column full-color standard with a lot of full-color artworks and cartography being part of the deal. The very user-friendly standard means you can easily print out this tome, which is a big plus for me. Fans of 3pps may by now know quite a few of these artworks from other publications, since Purple Duck games sells art, but generally, the artwork herein can be considered neat indeed…particularly when considering that this is NOT crowdfunded! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Okay, so these authors made Porphyra a reality: Project lead was Perry Fehr; Contributions from: Ken Austin, Thomas Baumbach, Carl Cramér, Daniel Denehy, Perry Fehr, Mark Gedak, August Hahn, Noble Hays, John Hazen, Sam Hing, Sean Holland, N. Jolly, Chrstopher Kaiser, James H. Lewis, Chris Longhurst, Liz Mackie, Josh McCrowell, Christopher Mennell, Scott Messer, Angel “ARMR” Miranda, Julian Neale, Daniel M Perez, David Pryzbyla, Marc Radle, David N. Ross, Treyson Sanders, Justin Sluder, Todd Stewart, Stefen Styrsky, Mike Welham, Jeremy Whelan, Patricia Willenborg.

 

Porphyra is a massive setting; a setting that breathes a spirit of eclectic high fantasy, with a metric ton of things to enjoy and do. Porphyra is inspired in that it consciously inorganic – like its namesake. Instead of trying to put a layer of consistency over the hodgepodge nature that campaigns become when one allows a ton of material, it embraces the theme and makes it internally consistent; Porphyra’s central achievement lies in the sheer guts of managing to properly depict a world that is rooted in a can-do attitude, in a design philosophy that embraces the diversity of tastes and themes. The restrictions imposed still allow for tonal consistency, while basically inserting a semi-permeable membrane. Porphyra is an exercise in cultural osmosis within our hobby; it is a world that operates in line with many a campaign – diffusion of ideas through a semi-permeable membrane; in this, it mimics how a GM’s brain is working, by making the exclusion/inclusion decision a part of its very design.

 

Don’t get me wrong – Porphyra is not perfect; it may not be for everyone. But personally, I am certain I’ll gladly return time and again to this patchwork planet…whether to scavenge ideas and cultures, items, crunch from the player’s guides or to actually play there. Porphyra is, in short, a fun, evoctiave campaign setting that particularly time-starved GMs tired of BSing a reason why cultural context xyz doesn’t work, will come to love for its plug-and-play nature – it is, in short, the USB-port of campaign settings. My final verdict, alas, also has to take the glitches that are here into account and thus will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5…and since I really like the premise and have come to appreciate Porphyra’s diversity, this also receives my seal of approval.

 

You can get this unique campaign setting here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 242016
 

Dear readers!

 

I am humbled by your outpouring of support – both from you, my loyal and faithful readers and by all the fine people in the industry that made the bundle the success it already is – if this keeps up, I’ll actually be at gencon to roll the bones and talk with you! 😀

 

And guess what? The awesome bundle actually keep GROWING! O.O You can’t imagine how humbled I am by the recent additions of Flaming Crab Games and Samurai Sheepdog joining the fray!
So take a look at those gems and the HUGE discounted bundle of awesome material you can get on them here!

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If you just want to get me to Gencon and don’t care about those awesome books (or already have them), you can actually donate here on OBS via Pay what you want – so yeah, if this works out, I may actually be able to *finally* meet some of you awesome folks in person and roll the bones with you! I’d certainly love to talk shop with you all and talk to you fine folks in person!
To your right hand side, you can also directly donate via the paypal-button (or this link!) in case you do not want to go through the OBS channel!

 

I am honestly completely STAGGERED by the great reception so far; by support that makes what looked like a pipe-dream to me actually within the realm of possibility. Just…awesomeness.

 

Next week, just fyi, will see me cover the remaining prioritized reviews…and a couple of really work-intense ones, in case you’ve been asking yourself why this week has been relatively slow (for my pace) regarding reviews. Monday’s my birthday, so not sure whether I can post anything that day (with relatives coming over all day long), but I’ll certainly try!

 

Thank you all so much! You mean the world to me!

Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 242016
 

After School Adventures – Adventures in Wonderland #1: Chasing the White Rabbit (5e)

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The first After School Adventure with an Alice in Wonderland-theme clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

First of all – this is the first of a series of 5 adventures that bring new players up to level 5; as written, it is intended to get PCs halfway to level 2. However, since the module as such is basically defined by its nature as a kind of minigame, this book can easily be inserted into most longer modules – including the superb Pixies on Parade, for which inclusion notes are part of the deal.

 

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

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.

All right, still here? The module begins with the famous white rabbit popping up and who ever needed a chance to chase after the guy? Right! So, the PCs follow the fully statted, planeshifting and constantly teleporting white rabbit (whose statblock had a minor glitch that has since been rectified) into the dark green wood and here is where the module becomes its own minigame – you see, the map of the chase is basically a whole boardgame-style playing field. Each round, a character can move 6 squares, 4 if small on this playing fields. . (Alternatively, you can roll the dice for movement, which I’d actually recommend!)

 

The board has multiple challenge squares – stopping in one with a challenge helps you speed the process along. Magic challenges let you teleport to the next magic challenge field on a successful Spellcraft check, with failure sending them one square back. Save challenges are based on attribute-based saving throws, while shortcut and skill challenges are based on skill check rolls like Wisdom (Perception) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) etc. The first character at the final clearing receives a treasure, but also has to face the boss, the tangleme tree (challenge 1/2) alone for a whole turn before the other PCs catch up – in the tree’s embrace, the rabbit awaited – and a cake that should be eaten later already hints at the next adventure to come. On an aside – the tangleme tree’s build is actually more interesting than in the PFRPG-version, so kudos there!

 

If you want, btw., you can also enjoy the map of the chase  in a 6-page blown-up version that you can assemble and use minis with, for example. Should you be picky about the like – the lowest bottom parts of the map sport a relatively unobtrusive advertisement, but one you can easily cut off. In my test, none of the kiddos minded it, though.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The full-color artwork is gorgeous and appropriate for even the smallest of kids.

 

J Gray’s first trip to Wonderland was very interesting for me. Why? Because, frankly, I wouldn’t have used the Alice-mythology. Having read so many treatises and twists on the subject matter, it’s hard for me to see the material with the same wide-eyed wonder I did as a child. Among all those gritty and dark revamps, taking the tropes and making them innocent is something I appreciated more than I thought I would. At the same time, you have to be aware that this module is neither particularly complex or unique in its mechanics – by design.

 

Why? Well, this is pretty much intended for players who have never played and RPG before. The challenges are pretty much simple “learn to roll X”-types of challenges that teach the basics pretty fast. The combat at the end etc. also are solid and fun, though perhaps not suitable challenges for kids that already have amassed some serious RPG-experience: If your kids have e.g. already completed a toned down AP made more child-friendly…then this won’t challenge them. If, however, you’re looking for a great gateway module that doesn’t demand too much and that, by virtue of its design, looks much like a familiar board-game, then this will do the trick better than any other module I’ve reviewed so far.

 

Even experienced groups can get something out of this, though; namely the fact that you can scavenge the chase and chase-board and increase the challenge. Personally, I think that makes it rather worthwhile. As for a final verdict: For me and my players, this was a good experience; not a stellar one, but a nice one. Unlike the first After School Adventure, it focused more on teaching playing mechanics rather than teaching; how you react to that pretty much depends on what you’ve been looking for. In the end, though, such a verdict would not be fair – this module tries to teach the truly young ones the game and does so in an appropriately non-threatening, fun manner with nary a chance for failure possible.

 

While this does not suit every table, particularly for bringing new kids into the game, this does a great job – and this is what its intention ultimately is. Hence, I will rate this according to its intended goal, which it achieves. For kids ages 4 -6, this is a neat introduction, in particular for the more sensitive ones that don’t already want to be Red Sonja or a similarly uncommon character due to their parents or elder siblings – for this, its intended audience, this certainly is a 5-star module. Older players and groups should take aforementioned caveats into account when getting this, but nonetheless, I’m looking forward to seeing how this mini-AP continues!

 

You can get this great beginner-friendly module for 5e here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 232016
 

After School Adventures: Adventures in Wonderland #1 – Chasing the White Rabbit

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The first After School Adventure with an Alice in Wonderland-theme clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

First of all – this is the first of a series of 5 adventures that bring new players up to level 5; as written, it is intended to get PCs halfway to level 2. However, since the module as such is basically defined by its nature as a kind of minigame, this book can easily be inserted into most longer modules – including the superb Pixies on Parade, for which inclusion notes are part of the deal.

 

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

..

.

All right, still here? The module begins with the famous white rabbit popping up and who ever needed a chance to chase after the guy? Right! So, the PCs follow the fully statted, planeshifting and blinking white rabbit into the dark green wood and here is where the module becomes its own minigame – you see, the map of the chase is basically a whole boardgame-style playing field. Each round, a character can move 6 squares, 4 if small on this playing fields. (Alternatively, you can roll the dice for movement, which I’d actually recommend!)

 

The board has multiple challenge squares – stopping in one with a challenge helps you speed the process along. Magic challenges let you teleport to the next magic challenge field on a successful Spellcraft check, with failure sending them one square back. Save challenges are based on saving throws, while shortcut and skill challenges are based on skill check rolls like Perception etc. – each nets bonuses on successful checks, not necessarily a penalty on failure. The first character at the final clearing receives a treasure, but also has to face the boss, the tangleme tree (CR 1) alone for a whole round before the other PCs catch up – in the tree’s embrace, the rabbit awaited – and a cake that should be eaten later already hints at the next adventure to come.

 

If you want, btw., you can also enjoy the map of the chase in a 6-page blown-up version that you can assemble and use minis with, for example. Should you be picky about the like – the lowest bottom parts of the map sport a relatively unobtrusive advertisement, but one you can easily cut off. In my test, none of the kiddos minded it, though.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The full-color artwork is gorgeous and appropriate for even the smallest of kids.

 

J Gray’s first trip to Wonderland was very interesting for me. Why? Because, frankly, I wouldn’t have used the Alice-mythology. Having read so many treatises and twists on the subject matter, it’s hard for me to see the material with the same wide-eyed wonder I did as a child. Among all those gritty and dark revamps, taking the tropes and making them innocent is something I appreciated more than I thought I would. At the same time, you have to be aware that this module is neither particularly complex or unique in its mechanics – by design. Why? Well, this is pretty much intended for players who have never played and RPG before. The challenges are pretty much simple “learn to roll X”-types of challenges that teach the basics pretty fast. The combat at the end etc. also are solid and fun, though perhaps not suitable challenges for kids that already have amassed some serious RPG-experience: If your kids have e.g. already completed a toned down AP made more child-friendly…then this won’t challenge them. If, however, you’re looking for a great gateway module that doesn’t demand too much and that, by virtue of its design, looks much like a familiar board-game, then this will do the trick better than any other module I’ve reviewed so far.

 

Even experienced groups can get something out of this, though; namely the fact that you can scavenge the chase and chase-board and increase the challenge. Personally, I think that makes it rather worthwhile. As for a final verdict: For me and my players, this was a good experience; not a stellar one, but a nice one. Unlike the first After School Adventure, it focused more on teaching playing mechanics rather than teaching; how you react to that pretty much depends on what you’ve been looking for. In the end, though, such a verdict would not be fair – this module tries to teach the truly young ones the game and does so in an appropriately non-threatening, fun manner with nary a chance for failure possible. While this does not suit every table, particularly for bringing new kids into the game, this does a great job – and this is what its intention ultimately is. Hence, I will rate this according to its intended goal, which it achieves. For kids ages 4 -6, this is a neat introduction, in particular for the more sensitive ones that don’t already want to be Red Sonja or a similarly uncommon character due to their parents or elder siblings – for this, its intended audience, this certainly is a 5-star module. Older players and groups should take aforementioned caveats into account when getting this, but nonetheless, I’m looking forward to seeing how this mini-AP continues!

 

You can get this cool, child-and beginner-friendly module here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 232016
 

Mythic Monsters: Mesoamerica

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This installment of the Mythic Monsters-series clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

We begin this installment of the Mythic Monsters-series with an unconventional offering – while the couatl has already been covered in Guardians of Good, this installment features the 10-level Plumed Servant-PrC that gets 1/2 BAB-progression and Will-save progression, 2+Int skills per level, 6/10 levels arcane spellcasting progression. Requiring 5 ranks in various skills and 2nd level arcane spells as well as a roleplaying prereq and 2 languages, these casters get an aura of good and a domain at 1st level and every 3 levels thereafter, though these only grant the domain powers. The spells associated with the domains can be learned as arcane spells when leveling up – and yes, this takes level-discrepancies between spell-lists into account. They gain a feather focus as an arcane bonded item in lieu of a divine focus and may use fly for class level minutes as an extraordinary ability. The higher levels provide detect alignment, stern gaze, scaling bonuses versus grapples and poison, elemental speech and may use plumes instead of potions for several items and they may make celestial armors from couatl feathers and skin instead of from gold. The fly-duration of the wings can btw. also be used as a resource to add metamagic to an array of spells. Detect thoughts, ethereal jaunt, timeless body and unlimited flight (coupled with freedom of movement) complement the PrC. Of course, this is MYTHIC monsters, so it should come as no surprise that full-blown mythic variants of the PrC’s tricks have been included…which is nice – overall an okay option with cool flavor, but not a PrC that blew me away.

 

We are here for something different, right? Yep, the creatures! We begin with a classic: The CR 7/MR 3 Ahuizotl, whose voice mimicry is now supplemented by a fascination-causing illusion that drowns those unhappy enough to subject to it – and also extend its tail to a whopping 30 ft. A solid upgrade. The Cherufe,a t CR 16/MR 6 gets a retributive detonate, may generate ash storms, can throw exploding rocks, cause lava to burst forth by stomping and gets both fiery blood and aura – a great upgrade from the rather uninspired iteration in Bestiary 5 that makes the creature really come into its own!

 

At low levels, the CR 4/MR 1 chupacabra causes bleed damage and is a superb master of camouflage – and its chupar now causes mythic haste. Nice! The CR 10/MR 4 Guecubu can drag foes hit with it under the earth, burying them – awesome! Oh, and charges from burrowing and an aura of unluck complement another creature that now is a much better representation of the myths associated with it.

 

CR 21/ MR 8 and thus utterly deadly – the Lusca.Drawing power (and regeneration) from the carnage they inflict, decapitating bites, a mastery of sharks and a mythic-power-upgradeable bleed complement a lethal build. Peuchen get CR 12/MR 5 and may possess animals…and staggers foes that are constricted. With surprising coils, swift action vampiric touch and hypnotic scales, these can be considered, once again, a great upgrade for the base creature. At CR 6/MR 2, the saguaroi can grow additional limbs via mythic power for more slams or find even hidden sources of water – interesting potential ally….but not as cool as the mythic iteration of one of the coolest animals EVER: MYTHIC GIANT MANTIS-SHRIMP. Superb sight, great carapace, iterative pincer attacks (with the option to use mythic power to remove the penalties…) and sonic bursts that accompany their superbly fast strikes (including staggering foes) make this creature…GLORIOUS. And yes, their sight is incredible. Oh, and they get a superb full-color artwork and 3 variants.

 

The mythic tunche, at CR 21/MR 8 can absorb animals, plants and vermin, instantly killing them and incorporating them into their dread gestalt entity…which also allows them to split into multiple creatures. Oh, and they have a concentration-crippling aura and may use Rise of teh Jungle more than once…OUCH! The option to decrease their required actions for teleports also make them far more deadly than their already cool non-mythic brethren. Even more powerful, the mythic Tzitzimitl clocks in at CR 23/MR 9 and gets a lavish full-page artwork. Great: Eyebeams that combine dispelling, energy drain and damage…brutal. Their deeper darkness causes brutal cold damage, they can convert positive to negative energy and have an ability called apocalyptic harbinger that grants them some serious immunities. I really want to use this beast right now! (And yes, these guys have Sun Eater and Nailed to the Sky…’nuff said.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, namely at CR 1/MR 1, the xtabay is one of the most disturbing plot creatures I know – and that’s all I’m going to say about them. The base creature is great; the mythic upgrade is also great, also thanks to one of several feats provided in this book to supplement the builds, here Mythic Feel Footfall. The CR 5/MR 2 Zuvembie can force the living to heed their call and can use nature’s exile and power the undead they can animate as with mythic animate dead. Solid, if comparably less remarkable.

 

We end this pdf with a true legend – Xipe Totec, golden-skinned and clad in flayed skins. In case you didn’t know – this is actually a deity in Aztec mythology, more popularly known as Tezcatlipoca and was the deity of life, death and rebirth. Either a former deity or on the verge of deific ascendancy, this CR 30/MR 10 killer with his flaying criticals, heart eating and the option to infuse creatures with spellcasting capacity, he ranks among the coolest builds in the series AND makes for a superb boss/plot-device…oh, and he’s basically impossible to destroy. His artwork, btw., is absolutely awesome.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games two-column full color standard. The original pieces of full color art provided are high-quality and awesome. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Mike Welham and Jason Nelson have crafted a great array of monsters here – while personally, I’m not too blown away by the PrC in the beginning and while a precious few creatures could have used a bit more, as a whole, this is a truly evocative, unique array of adversaries. More important, at least to me as a professed aficionado of Aztec mythology and Mesoamerican folklore, the creatures herein just are infinitely closer to what they ought to be doing. Increasingly, I can observe this series spoiling me horribly regarding monsters – I expect by now that a creature has a couple of unique, flavorful tricks up its sleeve – so much so that the last two bestiaries, from a mechanic point of view, often disappointed me. This pdf’s achievement, then, would lie in actually making these evocative, classic and oh so awesome beings finally live up to their myths. Mythic indeed. 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this great collection of mythic threats here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.