Sep 182016
 

Miscellaneous Musings: Gencon III

 

So…how do I encompass the experience I had in Gencon, beyond what I’ve written already? How do I convey the level of gravitas, the level of joy, the level of joy I constantly felt while there? Ultimately, words must fail me, have to fail me, but I shall try.

 

I began this series of posts with a quote about a sense of non-belonging that has been a leitmotif for my life. Well, I am not exaggerating when I’m saying that, going to Gencon, has basically made me feel like a cherished part of a huge family. I was basically starstruck all the time, but at one point, I realized one thing: Those game-designer legends I meet? They are exceedingly cool people! I spent all this time in a hazy blur or impressions and endorphins, a constant, natural high unlike any I’ve experienced in years. I already mentioned Lou Agresta, BJ Hensley and Jonathan Nelson as instrumental and awesome people…but they were, by far, not the only ones.

 

I actually got to meet Monte Cook and Bruce R. Cordell! That was absolutely insane and I think I was the equivalent of a teen-aged girl shaking the hands of her boyband idols while talking to them.

 

But to a more significant extent, I realized something else: There is this immediate, clicking, this immediate reaction to getting to know some of these fine folks, when you look at someone and really like them; feel as though you’ve always known them and have this instant sense of kinship. I experienced that. A LOT.

 

An anecdote. One morning, I went outside the hotel to have a smoke and stood around, noticing that I’m running out of cigarettes. There was one older gentleman there, who had the style of a meta-head/rocker and looked pretty cool. We talked, I asked him where you can get cigarettes around here, he told me and we started hitting it off, talking gaming and everything, sharing stories…and then his convention badge flipped over and my face just froze. My eyes widened and all I could do was to try to not start stammering – I had been chewing the ear off of none other than Frank Mentzer! That is probably as close to a stammering idiot as you can ever see me get, but he was exceedingly cool and I think I probably have told just about everyone at the con how I ran into him.

 

That was stunning, but adding Margeret Weis and Larry Elmore to the crew I met was similarly a truly stunning experience – and having SnarfQuest, signed and collected in my own hardcover is certainly one of the brag-worthy occurrences I took home with me.

 

There are two more groups of people that rendered me starstruck and utterly surprised by how cool they are: Number one would be the Paizonian crew: I honestly, from the bottom of my heart, couldn’t have asked for more intriguing people to hang out with: I was completely delighted to spend time with Adam Daigle, who is just a thoroughly awesome guy I’d love to game and spend time with; I adored talking to Rob McCreary about post-modern Czech literature and Prague and speaking with Mark Seifter of Jason Bulmahn also was absolutely amazing. Talking to Brandon Hodge made me just realize how much I wanted to talk about hermetic scholasticism and alchemical traditions…and while Dave Paul of Rite Publishing is no Paizonian, talking to him about philosophy and hermeneutics has been exceedingly fulfilling.

 

A strange blend of the starstruck and at the same time very unique and glorious was hanging out with Erik Mona – who also was kind enough to see to it that I got some Paizo books…so yes, expect to see at the very least 2 Paizo-reviews hit site! Kidding aside, Erik is not only a legend to me, he is an awesome human being and translating some German sentences on artworks and crests was a true delight – should you read this, master Mona, feel free to contact me any time if you require similar services!

 

The next big group, which obviously overlapped in significant ways with the Paizonian crew would be the glorious werecabbage crew: I’ve can’t emphasize enough how awesome both Lou Agresta and Greg A. Vaughan are. And David Hall deserves accolades for one of the most fun gaming experiences I’ve had in a long while – at the werewolf dinner, I played a mean hunchback and he was a truly superb GM…though each and every participant here was a true joy: Imagine playing with a group that only consists of the most inspired of GMs and players and you pretty much get that experience. I haven’t laughed that much in a long, long while. Oh, and we got the werewolves!

 

Speaking of gaming: Greg A.- Vaughan’s CoC purist game was absolutely GLORIOUS: Thanks again to Michael Azzolino for giving up his spot for me…and to Greg A. Vaughan for running the game, for it was hilarious: We were boyscouts (all with insanities that rendered us stereotypes, Fear Itself-style) that set out towards a horrid island featuring inbred cannibals, strange pseudo-Mayan caverns with a Camazotz-theme and worse…and while my insane luck almost allowed me to climb out of a huge cenote, I failed the very final check and fell down almost 100 meters, impaling my body on a stele, gurgling forth with my dying breath “You will all die!” Love it! (And yes, dear people – dying and becoming insane can be a huge blast!) I spent the next couple of hours observing the game and while, at one point, fatigue got the better of me and I staggered home at 6 AM, it was absolutely glorious…and I did get the award for the most spectacular death. A special shout-out to master Hall, Jason Nelson, Noel and master Helt (and the other players) for making me truly enjoy this game!

 

I feel honored to have been able to properly play with you fine folks! Apart from a card-game, I didn’t have much time to play beyond those instances, but that was, by far, not everything. Meeting none other than Wolfgang Baur was mind-blowing – and I mean that literally! He speaks accent-free German and is one of only two non-Germans I know with this precise an pronunciation. Beyond that, the master of Kobold Press is just an all-out joy to talk to and discuss topics of all kinds with.

 

Which brings me to a more holistic view on gaming: If talking to people like these legends, Jaye Sonia, Alexander Augunas, Brian Berg, Neil Spicer, Brian Suskind, Adam Crockett and similar people has made me realize one thing, then it’s that the very mindset, just as much as the kindness, is what drew me to gaming…and made me stay. My experience is that meeting your idols and those people you only know from talking online often is disheartening, because meeting them does not hold up to one’s fantasies.

Because it tells you not enough or the wrong things about people. This experience was pretty much the anathema – as an example, Erik Bauer of Gaming paper fame, while very busy and court in e-mails, is an absolute blast to hang out with and talk to and Jeremy Smith of Dreamscarred Press and his lovely wife similarly are just awesome, awesome folks.

 

Where else could I switch between the hundreds of eclectic themes I love, between gaming and all my numerous weird interests pertaining literature and culture and talk shop with folks that actually care as much about these themes as I do? I truly felt like a prodigal son returning home to his clan, with mind-boggling experiences like master Adkison’s private party, hanging out with Tom Knauss, Stephen Radney-MacFarland and Tim Hitchock just going back to back in the most awesome manner imaginable.

 

The kindness show to me was great; but it, on its own, would not have really made me happy; it is the intellectual stimulation, the sense of kinship suffusing everything, that blew me away, that made me as happy as I haven’t been in a long while. I haven’t even begun scratching the surface of all the glorious things that happened to me over there and I feel I will never be capable of properly depicting the vibrant rush of impressions and joy that flooded my system. I slept a maximum of 5 hours a day while there, all jacked up on endorphins and adrenaline and while I didn’t play that much, didn’t go to True Dungeon (in spite of the kind offers I had)…Gencon was a blast. I went there for the people and the experience and my one complaint about it will ultimately be that it was over too soon. I wish I had so much more time to spend with all of you great ladies and gentlemen, to play, talk and laugh more. Due to a hiccup in the airline’s system, I spent a day at Indy airport, but not even that did anything to curb my enthusiasm and I certainly had enough reading material with me, so it did not become boring.

 

Returning to Germany was a pretty somber affair, as rain greeted me as an appropriate physical manifestation of the return, but in the end, it took the weeks following that for me to truly realize how reinvigorating, how absolutely inspiring my stay at Gencon was; there was so much strength and joy I have drawn and continue to draw from the experience, it is mind-boggling. When I close my eyes, I can still see the streets of Indy, hear the words of all these cool people ring in my ear and feel the warm breeze.

 

I salute to everyone I’ve met and those I haven’t had the fortune of meeting – in particular the readers who were so kind to make this whole experience possible. Your generosity was NOT in vain. So, a toast to all of you! I do this for you. I do this because I’m passionate about RPGs. And actually getting to talk to you has stoked the fires of my passion more than you can imagine.

 

Thank you.

 

One more thing: I have been gifted a vacation and since my patreons told me to go when I asked, I will do so. I’m not yet sure how often I’ll be able to post reviews during this vacation, but I will be to my regular schedule back on the 17th of October -and yes, with reviews appropriate for the dark time before Halloween!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

P.S.: A note for all Germans. I’m from Franconia, pretty much the premium beer area in the world. The craftbeer revolution in the US has frankly delivered some of the best beers I have tasted anywhere, Franconia included. In particular the red beers, rather rare and one of my favorites, have been glorious indeed. So yeah, gone are the stereotypical days of bad American beer – there is some seriously great stuff around here!

 

P.P.S.: If you haven’t joined my patreon and like what I’m doing, please considering joining. Every contribution matters! You can find my patreon here.

Sep 182016
 

The Assassin: A Modular, Momentum Base Class

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This base class, commissioned via Interjection Games’ patreon by Brandon Funderburgh, clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 33 pages, so let’s take a look!

 

An assassin-class? Another one? Why would anyone care? Well, there *IS* a reason and this one was crafted by Bradley Crouch, so I’ll expect something rather unique here…so please continue reading. What does the assassin class get?

 

Chassis-wise, the class gains d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-save progression and proficiency with simple weapons, blade boot, hand crossbow, katana, kukri, rapier, sap, scimitar, short sword, shortbow (including composite), shuriken and wakizashi as well as light armor. The class begins play with sneak attack +1d6 and increases sneak attack damage by +1d6 every 3 levels thereafter. As a minor nitpick, the table lacks the “+” before sneak attack, but is at least consistent in that regard. 2nd level nets evasion, just fyi.

 

The first defining aspect of the assassin class would be assassin techniques – the class begins play with 4 of them and learns a new one each level, up to 23 at 20th level. Techniques have two categories, “hot” and “cold” techniques and a save Dc of 10 + 1/2 class level + Int-mod, if applicable. Unless stated otherwise, only one technique per round may be executed. Hot techniques interact with Presence: An assassin begins play with the ability to exploit emotions and instinctive reflexes of targets – and uses them to accomplish deeds otherwise impossible. When a non-allied creature approaches within 60 feet of the assassin, the creature gains a presence pool, which can hold a maximum of 4 presence points and the pools are lost when a creature leaves the 60 ft. range for the assassin’s Cha-mod minutes. Techniques modify the presence pool and can increase or decrease the presence pool of the creature in question. Thus, hot techniques have a presence source, which is usually single target (affecting the presence pool of a single foe); the more fantastic techniques have a certain presence required and they sport a presence change that modifies the presence points of the affected foe.

 

In contrast to hot techniques, cold techniques do NOT modify the presence pool and instead modify the assassin’s technique pool. The assassin gains technique pool points equal to class level + Int-mod. These points replenish after 8 hours. These cold techniques ignore the presence required and presence change entries. They are paid from the technique pool and cost a number of points equal to the presence change. Finally, there are “lukewarm” techniques that may be executed as either hot or cold techniques. If that sounds complicated, rest assured that it really isn’t once you’ve read the pdf.

 

Each of the two technique types also has 4 categories, which could be likened to schools – for hot techniques, we get acupressure, execution, initiation and magehunting, while cold techniques encompass infiltration (not properly italicized), intuition and poison. A system of this versatility does look like it could suffer from not having the necessary ease of building, but the class has a total of 5 universal techniques hard-wired in the class: At 1st level, studying a target can net you a presence change (and this one can be used in conjunction with other techniques). Later, creatures with HD equal to 1/2 assassin HD or less, you may reduce the presence pool of such a foe down to 0 and net you a temporary technique pool against the target, allowing for relatively quick dispatching of mooks. At 8th level, at the end of your turn, a nearby creature with 0 presence gets +1 presence (at 20th level all creatures are affected). 12th level lets you reduce a target’s presence to 0, but also execute + 1 technique this round and 14th level nets you a luck bonus versus creatures with a presence pool that increases at 18th level.

 

As always, we get favored class options for aasimar, drow, hobgoblins, kitsune, kobold, orc, puddling, tiefling, vanara, vishkanya and core races and the class comes with almost 20 new feats for the class – beyond the obligatory increase of the technique pool, the feats allow for absolutely impressive, creative operations: Adding presence to adjacent foes after using an execution technique, retaining more stolen spells spells, spells as SPs… but there is more to be found: For example teaching an ally technique pools and the basics of assassination for 24 hours! Absolutely awesome and may be expanded! Gaining the option to add presence in surprise rounds is neat indeed. Have I mentioned gaining an infiltration technique. These feats allow for unique gambits, daily limit tricks, passive and active tricks – all in all an inspired set-up!

 

So, let’s take a look at the technique lists! Structure-wise, we have the majority of techniques sans prerequisites, level 4, 6 and 8 as further prerequisite-levels and the techniques are listed by specialization and prereq-level in handy tables for your convenience. Let’s start with the hot techniques: Acupressure techniques allow you to cause foes to drop objects, deafen or blind them or force them to move – basically, it takes all those cool chakra control and acupressure tropes we know from Easterns, WuXia movies and anime and codifies them as cool tricks.

 

Execution is awesome as well – Take the eponymous execute technique: It requires 4 presence, but deals damage to the target equal to the damage taken so far, max 1d6 per level, allowing you to finish off critters with awesome precision. I have never seen an ability that takes this concept actually work – here it does. Impressive. Nasty debuffs, bleeding wounds and adding feints combine brutal end-game attacks and set-ups. Awesome and absolutely glorious. Initiation allows for sniping: Instant throwing knives, disarming shots…oh, and what about hitting a target and then causing its actions to damage the target? That is mechanically intriguing and the sniping tricks work perfectly for Hitman-style assassins – get your inner 47 on!

 

Magehunting is similarly awesome and something I mentioned before: Spell-pilfering, penalized CLs, better saves, making homunculi from mages slain (!!!), dispel magic or copy spells you saved against – this one technique officially makes the assassin my favorite take on the anti-mage killer/ (slightly) arcane trickster trope ever.

Cold techniques are nothing to sneeze at either: Quicker movement, instant Kip Up, leaping through difficult terrain, walking up walls, blending with crowds: Infiltration makes you the badass secret agent/killer the assassin should be.

 

Once again taking the tropes of the Eastern/WuXia/tropes associated with mystic assassins, Intuition is all about preternatural awareness with lie detector tricks by touch, store d20s to later use (and even share with allies) – the tricks here go far beyond what we usually see and are creative, different and simply impressive. Finally, poison specialization autogrants poison mixology, which nets you daily, highly customable poisons as a basic framework that is used by all techniques, featuring additional doses, the option to drink poisons to heal (!!!) and squirt it from your eyeballs (!!!!) at foes. Making lethargic liquids to impose increasingly powerful conditions on foes…absolutely amazing.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – while I noticed some formal hiccups, these never impede the rules-language, which is impeccably precise, as we’ve come to expect from Bradley Crouch. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports solid stock art. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks, but does not feature bookmarks for the individual techniques.

 

OH MY GAWD. Sorry, I can’t contain myself here. I read this and liked it. I tested it and loved it. I picked it apart and truly adored it. I saw it and thought “Great, yet ANOTHER assassin class.” Don’t be fooled. I am NOT kidding when I’m saying that:

  1. A) This plays incredibly well, allowing for all the things that assassins were always supposed to do.
  2. B) From all the classes and takes on the concept I know of, none even comes remotely close to this class in versatility and, more importantly, in the category of fun.
  3. C) I have literally not seen about 90% of the tricks this class has before, and when I have seen one before, it was usually the one truly impressive trick of a class, not one among the vast numbers of unique options.

The momentum and point engines interact absolutely beautifully and the math framework is a beauty to behold if you pen it down: You have the passives, the set-ups, the daily tricks, a vast assortment of customization feats and, on a whole, truly different focuses in the specializations – each of them alone can make for glorious playing experiences, but mixing and matching is even cooler. With a ton of options in combat and beyond, this class is simply one of the best, most rewarding and unique playing experiences I know of for Pathfinder. It perfectly takes the much-maligned and often sucky trope of the assassin and makes it work perfectly, flawlessly and awesome for the first time in PFRPG.

 

Whether you want to play Assassin’s Creed, Ninja’s Scroll, Raj’ Al-Ghul’s killers, Codename 47 or any combination of these guys – this delivers and oh boy, do I want MORE!

 

This class may quite literally be my very favorite class from the pen of Bradley Crouch; it’s that good. Let me reiterate: Even among his unique roster of classes, this stands out far above and beyond in concept and execution. It finally gives the superb concept of the assassin the proper due it deserves and actually has replaced the swordmaster as my favorite non-spellcaster class. Easy to grasp, with a glorious playing experience, this is a must-own class, one of the best classes out there and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars, my seal of approval and is a candidate for my Top ten of 2016. Oh, and it is from now on my go-to class for assassins and thus gets my EZG Essential tag.

 

You can get this legendary class here on OBS!

 

You can make Bradley Crouch design such awesome classes here on Interjection Games’ patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 182016
 

Girls Gone Rogue (OSR)

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This massive expansion-book for the sleazy space opera RPG Alpha Blue clocks in at 80 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 72 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, before we dive in: This is designated as Mature Content. It is the expansion book for a rules-light RPG that reproduces the aesthetics of scifi-porn-satires, so if you have a problem with sexuality, dick/vagina/boob-jokes and gender stereotyping for men and women, this may not be for you. While the males and females I played this with considered it hilarious, that must not necessarily hold true for you or your game. Artwork-wise, this book’s artwork contains full-frontal drawn nudity and also features artworks of orgies that involve tentacle-aliens that look like gricks – the artwork is significantly more explicit than in Alpha Blue – where Alpha Blue was softcore, this one’s artwork is hardcore.

And the artwork and content includes…vagina sandwhales. That says it all right there. This book is not for people who take themselves too seriously and can’t take a dirty joke. If your impulse to such behavior is “unbecoming” or “puerile”, this may not be for you.

 

All right, this out of the way, we begin with the author’s signature array of extensive tables to provide dressing and random features, beginning with general scifi-aesthetics, a total of 30 unique alien features…and then things become interesting: Relative experience in space with 6 entries actually has significant influence regarding mechanics, netting you unique benefits. 8 alternative careers are also included. Finally, there would be Zedi – yep, Jedi-parody. Their abilities are usually rolled with 2d6, but when a character only very rarely uses his powers, it’s 4d6, which is a nice idea. However, the respective powers are severely lacking in precision. Stopping an energy weapon in mid air is cool…but can it affect ship weapons? What range does it have? What does “Boosts a zedi’s luck in games of chance.” actually do? No idea. This is basically not functional and requires copious amounts of GM-fiat. And no, just because it’s supposed to be rules-light, this does not get a pass for this one. Not good. Also problematic: The dark templar’s death curse, while a cool idea, nets a target only a 2 in 6 chance of survival, which pretty much begs to be abused, but can at least not be spammed or the like.

 

A total of 30 archetypes (basically tropes sans mechanical repercussions) can help customize the character and the book contains a hilarious “And now for something completely different Monty Python”-event table. A table to determine what happens to PCs between games is neat and we also get a table for sexual vibes and a massive 5 column, 20 row weird sexual fantasies and fetish creator: You could end up with ” Pineapple, pom-poms, ferns, mazes and severed toes” – yeah, not kidding about weirdness. Reactions of females to unsolicited advances, random clothing articles, hair and body, physical beauty, profession and names, 100 peculiarities of women (and 20 of men – hey, we’re simple critters!) an random “O”-face-generator, a random table to determine orgasms, Stockholm Syndrome, random pawn shop items, and a hangover “What the fuck did I do last night?” table add a lot of weirdness to the game.

 

Sample Alpha Blue NPCs, Noir-ish sample characters, small talk topics, using Spaghetti Western Tropes in space (*cough* Firefly */cough*), blaster duel rules, technology glitches, planet generators, ship to ship combat (that actually runs smooth and is pretty deadly) and additional fuel sources are included.

 

Okay, but this also contains adventures – or rather, adventure-set-ups. Basically, the pdf walks you through the process pretty well, but do not expect read-aloud texts galore, cartography of the locations and the like – however, even more of the copious tables are included in the book’s modules.

 

Note: The following takes a look at the module section, so potential players should jump to the conclusion to avoid SPOILERS.

..

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All right, still here?

 

The first module is basically a parody of a combination of Blade Runner and a twist on the exploitation classic; hence the module is all about Ilsa of the SS – basically a Slut Series sex-replicant that has lived too long and developed sentience. By means of contracting a bio-engineered STD, the PCs are press-ganged into hunting her down, but not all is as it seems. And yes, the hunt for her will lead the PCs to a planet that contains aforementioned vagina-whale sandworms as well as washed up legend Bubba Fatt. Oh, and killer sex-bot moves.

 

The second module treats the PCs after the Ilsa-incident as basically loose ends and involves the PCs in a political set-up between a power-struggle in another planet’s monarchy/an escort mission with a princess in disguise. Can you picture how that’ll go. Yep. Similarly, winning the lottery may see a whole galaxy snuffed out. There is also the plot of amazonian slavers, a sex-enhancing drug…and then there would be the titanic colony ship, captained by Black Helmet, aka Moranis…or the space-sheikh’s harem…or the escape from the penal planet destructo…and have I mentioned the outline that is an homage of the genius Life of Brian? Saving a space-cheerleader from a slaver is also a pretty nice one.

 

The book concludes with excellent maps – the Barstar D and no less than three ships (one with strange tentacle-studded organic components, all in full-color and spanning two maps, provided testament of cartographer Glynn Seal’s talent.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. On a rules-level, the book oscillates between great and some instances where it is lacking. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks throughout are glorious. The pdf contains the glyph-font that you can translate to lewd sentences. The cartography is stellar and the pdf is fully bookmarked. I do not have the print version, so I can’t comment on that aspect.

 

One of the issues I had with Alpha Blue as a base book was that it didn’t go the whole way – to use an appropriate terminology, it got stuck in the heavy-petting phase. This one goes all out – so kudos for that! For the most part, this book contains an excellent array of awesomeness regarding the supplemental material for Alpha Blue, but there are some serious hiccups in here as well: The non-functional Zedi are disappointing and regarding the “modules”…I don’t know. Less would have been more here. Don’t get me wrong, the two long “modules” here are pretty cool, fun and evocative.

 

The other encounters/module-set-ups, in contrast, feel like afterthoughts and usually have this one cool idea, but don’t do too much with it. It may be just me, but I really would have preferred a more precise take on the big modules, more fodder, more details, maps or the like over these sketches. Why am I using quotation marks for “modules” here? Well…apart from the longer two, the others are basically what you’d read in an adventure-synopsis. They need you to fill in all the details and while I don’t mind too much, I still feel that their respective cool concepts could have been boiled down to a paragraph and replaced with more detailed material for the big ones – which are similarly a bit sketchy. This, as a whole, is pretty weird, for Venger As’Nas Satanis has shown that he can write more precise modules. On the plus-side, what is here tends to put a smile on your face and inspire, even if it does require some work on the Space DM’s side.

 

In the end, this is a good expansion, but one that falls a bit short of what it could have been. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get this neat expansion for Alpha Blue here on OBS!

 

Liked the modules? There currently is a kickstarter to fund a module for Alpha Blue, one for Crimson Dragon Slayer and one for the Outer Presence here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 182016
 

Borderland Provinces: Player’s Guide (system-neutral)

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This book clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, what kind of player’s guide is this? The answer is simple: It’s the type of guide you read because you want to read it. The theme is relatively simple – instead of just confronting players with a dry synopsis of the respective regions, this pdf is written to emulate a collection of letters/correspondences and documents of characters that are traveling the borderland provinces that will be the adventuring location for the players. The intriguing component with this approach is that this approach actually not only manages to shine diverging focuses upon the things going on and thus highlight different aspects of the regions:

 

We can get a glimpse of intrigues and politics through the motivations of nobility; we can witness a character fall to the devil opium and slowly sink into the clutches of demon-worship; we can see clerics fighting the heresies that spring up and realize the truth behind the supposed commoner. Each of the characters has his/her own narrative voice, with the letters of a barely literate knight using a more phonetic writing style full of at times humorous glitches, showing that the character in question probably had one too many jousting lances to the head (or used Int as a dump stat).

 

Via the letters of these characters, we move through the borderlands and accompany their triumphs and tribulations, their fear of the untamed wilderness and the draconic doom lurking right out there sinking slowly to the reader. unlike the quasi-early modern period, a sense of medieval structures is conveyed in a believable manner. The city of Manas, capital of Suilley, does get a full-page map for the convenience of players and the final page provides a collection of no less 8 heraldic crests, which help players identify the knights and holdings – when the GM describes the crest of a tower with a crown above it, the players will know to expect the Exeter province’s holdings and retainers. Exeter? Yep, nomenclature is associated with central European nomenclature, with Aachen and Vourdon, as further examples, illustrating well the linguistic aesthetic.

 

In the hands of lesser authors, this could easily backfire, but t does not in this book. So yes, after reading this supplement, I sure as hell knew that I wanted to play in the Borderland Provinces.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column b/w-standard and the cartography and artwork in b/w are neat indeed. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed bookmarks and the print copy is a qualitatively neat booklet with good paper – as we’ve come to expect from frog God Games.

 

I have become a big fan of Matthew J. Finch’s writing and he delivers herein, creating a tantalizing atmosphere. Furthermore, he highlights the different, interwoven leitmotifs of the region in a compelling manner and makes you excited to check out the region and unravel all the plots and options I have seen in such guides. This is a player’s guide well worth the asking price and a neat companion book for the big tome. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

 

You can get this very evocative guide here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.

Sep 182016
 

Borderland Provinces: Journey Generator (system-neutral)

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This supplement clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, 3/4 of a page blank, leaving us with 16 1/4 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

One central component of any sandbox campaign worth its salt is the component of the journey – whether because wine and wenches await in a far-off place or because something needs to be delivered – whether a secret missive, a caravan or something altogether different. The problem that a GM does have here is that it is hard to come up with meaning full journeys – enter this book and its 2 different types of journey generation: Number one creates journeys focused on getting to the adventure, whereas the second generator creates journeys that represent the main meat of the adventuring experience in question. It should be noted that this book, obviously, focuses on the Borderland Provinces – hence, we get a total of 12 tables, one for each of the respective provinces and a table that features a variety of patrons and supplemental motivations for the patrons. The patron tables could have been a little more versatile, though: A lot of diplomatic missions, tasks for churches, etc.

 

The pdf goes on to provide a table of 10 simple journey details; for more complex journeys, 10 objectives, 20 locations, 10 groups and 10 immediate threats can be quickly rolled and combines. 14 general monster themes, 20 related objects and 5 possible complications allow for flexible modifications. The journey completed, 5 entries for the final wrap-up of the journey can add a final sense of unpredictability to the proceedings.

 

Beyond these basic setups, a quick price change table for quick trading makes for a fun and smooth trading rules array. Of course, the pdf also has a massive table to generate roadside inns, with name patterns, creature and item adjectives, creatures and items, etc. Basic descriptions of inns, religious hostels and a neat what’s for dinner table. The book also sports 10 conditions and events to further add to the journey and the book concludes with 31 fully detailed sample journeys.

 

Conclusions:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf has neither artworks, nor bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The pdf is fully bookmarked and the hardcopy is of the usual high quality for Frog God Games print books.

 

I *really* like Matthew J. Finch’s Journey generator and the tables to quickly generate locations to precise locations in the Borderland Provinces makes this a pretty useful book. But at the same time, it feels like it does fall a bit short – I am pretty spoiled by Raging Swan Press’ absolutely legendary GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing and regarding the details of the journey, I’d very much suggest taking this legendary book (#1 of my Top Ten 2014, just fyi…) to add all the evocative dressing you require to the basic journey generated herein, since this booklet simply doesn’t have that level of detail. I was also pretty disappointed, for a journey-book depicting a specific region, to get no handy table of distances between places and projected number f traveling days by foot, horse or cart. This does not mean that this book is bad, mind you – it just means that it falls short of its own potential. While useful for the Borderland Provinces, the pdf could have been significantly more useful with a bit more room to shine and the lack of travel-distances decrease the usefulness of this one for me. A solid book slightly on the positive side, my final verdict for this one will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purposes of this platform.

 

You can get this generator here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 182016
 

Borderland Provinces: Player’s Gazetteer (system-neutral)

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This booklet clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The Borderland Provinces Player’s Guide took a rather brave and evocative step by focusing exclusively on the atmosphere created, on providing a book that conveys properly the unique flavor of the Borderland Provinces. At the same time, this book alone would some tables leave wanting the harsh facts, the breakdown of the lands to be found in this illustrious region and notes on the history of the place – after all, when you have lived here for a while, you will probably know a bit about this place, right?

 

So, as opposed to the player’s guide, which provides the totality of the atmosphere and leitmotifs of adventuring in the provinces, this one focuses on instilling the overview information. To be more precise, we get a *MASSIVE* chronology of the lands here, with 3 different calendars! The hyperborean incursions, the rise and fall of Foere and the recent Suilleyn secession and imperial aspirations are noted and establish the basic, global dynamics.

 

Beyond the chronology of the respective regions, the player’s gazetteer then goes on to depict the various regions, from Aachen to Exeter and Gaelon. Beyond notes on population and notable settlements, unique terrain features, humorously inappropriately named dark and brooding forests (Forest of Hope – really got a chuckle out of me!) to notes on trade and diplomatic relationships as well as trade and commerce – the tapestry woven here is great and the guide. More importantly, the gazetteer does provide information and inspiration…but does not dive into SPOILER-territory, retaining full functionality for its player-book-status.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports unique and original b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the hardcopy is a booklet of the usual, high FGG-quality.

 

Matthew J. Finch’s pen is mighty indeed – the more I read from him, the more I love his prose and talent of weaving evocative worlds. This gazetteer is a great little supplement that delivers exactly what was missing from the Player’s Guide. Which brings me to the one reason this does not gain the seal of approval: In my opinion, combining the two guides into one would have been the smarter move and made book-organization easier, but that may just be me. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

 

You can get this neat gazetteer here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 172016
 

Steelforge Book I

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The first installment of Steelforge clocks in at 16 pages,. 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 of a page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 12 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

After a brief foreword by the authors, we dive right into the respective items contained herein and the first item-class already makes pretty much clear that this is NOT a standard magic item book – we begin with 3 inexpensive types of auto-loader magazines for crossbows. What do they do? Well, they make crossbows on par with bows. Thank you. That being said, I am a more than a bit weary of the ability to copy enchanted bolts in an infinite capacity – once you insert a bolt, the magazine copies the bolt’s properties on other bolts contained herein – insert mundane bolt, add one powerful magic bolt, get infinite copies of the powerful bolt. This would be utterly broken, were it not for the VERY smart caveat of it being impossible to taking any bolts out of this magazine sans destroying them, putting a hard cap on the number of bolts you can copy. This catapults the item class immediately from problematic to all awesome. Chest-slot-assigned natural armor enhancers, corsets that enhance your saves, girdles of protection and the like can also be found here.

 

In case you need that spelled out: The items here utilize other slots than e.g. the standardized slots – which may be a blessing or curse, depending on your take: While I really like the fact that now cloaks and rings aren’t necessarily occupied to make the high-level math work, this also allows for some optimization tricks that weren’t possible before. Since this issue is pretty much system-immanent, I will not penalize the pdf for it. That being said, I did notice an uncharacteristic glitch: The construction prices of the aforementioned corset are equal to the market prices, which is an obvious error. (As an aside: I do believe that prices could have been used to account for the value of the respective slots and some balancing here, somewhat offsetting the gained flexibility, but I digress.)

 

This is not all, though – hate seeds allow you to utilize the dread’s paranoia terror (cool!) and ironbody cloaks contain temporary hit points, which help in particular to offset the squishiness of some characters at high levels…or in high damage output games like those employing Path of War or similarly optimized characters. Headset-style earrings are damn cool and tie in well with collective rules and dimensional anchor nets have been a staple in my games for a while – nice to see them represented here as well! Seriously underpriced at 12K, Steelwalker’s Boots may add to the flexibility and flow of combat by allowing 1/2 movement in conjunction with full attacks, but they also cheapen all skirmishing builds I know. I’d hate this item like crazy, were it not for the fact that, unless you actually hit, you are staggered, making this a high-risk/reward item I actually ended up liking!

 

There is also a nice take on transferring magic enchantments from items to items (somewhat akin to Interjection games’ glyph wrappings).

 

More important would be the highly versatile charming trinket-systems: There is a bracelet and necklace that can each hold charms, with a ton of them provided in two groups, included upgrades for Claim-limits, ki points, etc. Nice customization array, though its flexibility and low price point, while cool, may not be what every GM is looking for, they do sport some serious value.

 

This is not all, though: We are introduced to the 3rd-level flightbreaker spell and the absolutely glorious endeca’s gregarious gravity slime: Somewhere between intelligent slime and item, you rub these slimes on weapons, attack foes and watch them do their magic. The slime is AWESOME and evocative and comes with a rather cute artwork. No complaints.

 

The pdf also feature the gravity slime master PrC, which covers 5 levels and adds a total of +3 BAB and Ref/Will-saves as well as two levels of class feature progression, d8 HD, 4 +Int skills per level. As a minor nitpick, Dreamscarred Press has established a time-frame in concrete time for per-encounter abilities that is not reprinted here, in spite of the PrC using such mechanics. The PrC can launch damaging, DR/resistance-ignoring untyped damage dealing gravity slimes at foes – while I have no balance concerns here, I still wished it wasn’t untyped. The gravity slime master also receives a gravity slime guardian at first level, basically a kind of variant eidolon that gains a series of free evolution, but no pool of its own or magic item-sharing with the master. And yes, at higher levels, it gains more evolutions and can act as a mount. The gravity slime master’s launched gravity slimes get additional, hampering effects at higher levels and starting at 3rd level, this impact ability extends to gravity slimes added to weapons. Really evocative little PrC.

 

The final chapter of the pdf covers a topic near and dear to my heart: Combating the Christmas Tree syndrome. This section pretty much is worth getting the pdf on its own. Why? Well, while most of Dreamscarred Press’ recent offerings have been geared towards high-powered gameplay, this chapter will provide a ton of benefits for pretty much all groups I can think of: Rare/Low magic campaigns can employ it and its massive table to codify the value of saving throw bonuses, armor class bonuses (by type) or resistances to be added to items, allowing for customization of more unique items and adding their benefits. Since the enhancements are listed in steps, they do take the slot component into account. This section is pretty minimalistic, yes – it basically covers the must-own enhancers to make the math come out right. I absolutely love it. The section is made primarily for GMs and can prove to be extremely helpful when pricing items that feature these options among others – from legendary items to legacy items, these humble two pages will see A LOT of use in my own game. One note, though: In spite of the non-stack caveats and very precise presentation here, I’d suggest GMs keeping a tight control over these rules, since, again, system-immanently, the added variety does allow for combos otherwise impossible. This is very much a feature in 99% of the cases, but it can be a bug, in spite of the section doing everything right.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on both rules-language and formal levels – with the one exception regarding prices mentioned above, but that one is pretty obvious as well. Layout adheres to an elegant 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Additionally, it comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. Kudos for going the extra mile there!

 

The authors of this pdf Jacob Karpel, Jade Ripley, Anthony Altovilla and Forrest Heck have crafted an intriguing pdf here: All crunch, steelforge’s first book is not a traditional item book; instead, it could be best described as a design-paradigm toolkit that provides item-options and tricks to customize your game. More importantly, several of its items address some gaps in the system; in particular, the temporary HP granting items can be a true blessing for high-powered gameplay. Other aspects of the pdf provide increased flexibility for magic items, interesting variants and options as well as some serious designing help for DMs looking for an easy price-cheat-sheet for the modification/design of legendary/legacy weapons or an end to the Christmas tree syndrome, making this pdf a valuable asset for lower powered games as well. That being said, considering the nature of this pdf, I do believe that some guidance for GMs regarding the ramifications of introducing some contents herein would have been helpful: This is basically a massive engine-tweak, but it does require a bit more understanding of the consequences of adding the content than I consider necessary. While this does mean that the pdf remains very focused on the crunchy aspects, it also makes it a pdf that requires some serious thought on behalf of the GM on which options to employ in the end.

 

It should be noted, however, that thinking about this is rewarded; Steelforge’s Book I has some truly glorious ideas and the gravity slime is a cool concept that can, engine-wise, certainly be expanded in future releases. I consider Steelforge I an excellent book that only misses my seal of approval due to the fact that it, as more of an engine-tweak than a traditional item book, could have used more didactic guidance for less experienced GMs. Still, consider this well worth getting – my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars,. rounded up to 5.

 

You can get this handy toolkit here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Dreamscarred Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 172016
 

Call to Arms: Tomes of Power (Revised Edition)

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This installment of the Call to Arms-series clocks in at 44 pages,1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial/introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Knowledge is power. This sentence has become a bit of a cliché. Okay, it *IS* a huge cliché. It is true nonetheless. From Latin to runes, language as a means of transporting knowledge in a written form is exceedingly powerful and ideas, ultimately, are the most powerful weapons of all.

 

As has become the tradition with the Call to Arms-series, we thus begin the pdf with a complex array of ruminations on the nature of text, its functions and components, not shirking e.g. the issues of copying and translation. (And anyone who has ever compare e.g. Shakespeare, Baudelaire or Goethe translations with the original will certainly attest a cringe-worthy quality that can result here…) In a fantastic context, the concept is similarly important, if not even more so: The pdf does mention Chambers’ classic The King in Yellow, which may well have provided an initial spark for Lovecraft and others…as often, the idea cuts deep.

 

One of my central gripes with Pathfinder as a system has always been the fact that tomes basically suffer from a rather niche existence; when compared to e.g. the Witcher games, where knowledge is the most valuable good you can have in combat with the weird creatures of the earth, it is significantly less important in our games and has less mechanical repercussions…and this one tries to fix that. The pdf collates, collects and expands the mundane tomes released so far, introducing arcane school reference books, chronicles etc. – rules-wise, these generally grant bonuses to associated checks when referencing the book or studying it. 3 new types of spellbooks (and two classics) can be found within these pages as well. The pdf also features two spellbooks with preparation rituals. (one for magus and one for the investigator.)

 

Beyond that, the pdf also collects all types of intriguing books herein – from the golem manuals to the summoning extenders and manuals that increase your attributes, grant combat feats. Very cool for sorcerors: Pages of Spell Knowledge. These pages contain a single spell; prepared casters may expend a spell slot of the appropriate spell slot to cast the spell on the page. A writ allows for instant atonement benefits, but requires longer hours of studying to maintain the benefits. As always in the series, we get a cursed tome and an intelligent item: The latter being A Young Person’s Phantasmagorical Primer, which contains fairy tales and allows persons featuring only NPC classes to gain the training required for PC classes and the book’s illusory realms are interesting, to say the least. Beyond that, we also get a total of 3 mythic books, one of which enhances a character’s capabilities when dealing with extraplanar creatures and another nets cruel jokes. Finally, another book allows for reincarnate. The book also contains 3 artifacts – the classic book of infinite spells, the codex of the lower planes and a take on the mother of all evil books, the intelligent necronomicon, including an advanced soul eater that may come for you. (CR 15, just fyi.) And yes, the book is cursed.

 

The pdf does contain two different spells, one that translates a book perfectly into ancient dwarven and one that animates a quill to copy writing. As always, though, we do receive a couple of variant rules, the first of which would be modifications for Linguistics to account for time-related changes in dialects, handwriting, translation qualities, if applicable, etc.

 

More importantly, the pdf does feature rules for forbidden knowledge – studiyng texts like this may result in corruption and the more thorough you study the texts, the harder it will be to resist the nasty effects of the respective tomes. Certain actions will trigger corruption saves and on a failure, the character gains a corruption point – all pretty simple. Here’s the cool thing, though: Tehse points can be used as either mythic power, hero points, as sanity…or a combination of them all, depending simply on your own tae on the subject matter, with proper synergy with the much-anticipated new Shadows over Vathak campaign setting book. A total of 3 such tainted tomes end this installment of Call to Arms on a high note.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good; while I noticed a couple of typo level glitches and would have loved slightly modified wording here and there, as a whole, the rules-language remains sufficiently precise to not result in any issues. Layout adheres to Fat Goblin games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf has some neat full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

 

Richard D. Bennett’s revised take on Tomes of Power is a fun offering, with in particular the variant rules herein being an inspired array of modifications. The book, as a whole, is a fun offering and delivers what it promises. In contrast to some of the other Call to Arms-books, though, it does feel a tad bit less evocative: A lot of the options here in the book are pretty conservative in the items represented – the more powerful items, for example, are either classic in concepts or, in the case of the mythic books, pretty weak. Apart from the evocative intelligent book and the awesome forbidden tomes, I simply wasn’t as blown away here, since I already knew a lot of the concepts here. This does not make the pdf bad, mind you, but it does deprive it of a place amid the best of these books. In the end, this is a good book – and well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

 

You can get this neat book here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 172016
 

Bite Me! Wererats

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This installment of the Bite Me!-series clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This time around, we take a look at wererats, now reimagined as part of the Bite Me!-series. They get +2 Dex and Con, -2 Wis, the two bloods racial feature (making you count as a parent race as well as a shapeshifter for purposes of being affected by effects), low-light vision, +2 to Perception and Survival. Beast Form works is presented in a rather precise wording construct that takes temporary hit points, equipment and the like into account and the odd formatting discrepancies gone – no complaints. In beats or hybrid form, DR 2/silver is gained and increases by +2 every odd level gained to a maximum of DR 10/silver. The wererat gains wolfsbane vulnerability and silver vulnerability. Wererats also gain Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat. That may just be me, but I am not too keen on wolfsbane as a universal vulnerability for lycanthrope-races; to me, it makes less sense for wererats to be affected by it, but that just as an aside. Regarding beast form and advancement, wererats may actually be suitable for the less powerful groups than some of the other Bite Me-iterations, since their diseased bite may be strong, but has less direct combat application.

 

Wererats get their own age, height and weight table, which is nice. The race does receive an assortment of no less than 11 alternate racial traits that include darkvision, Dodge as a bonus feat, emphasis on the social nature of rats, permanent rat teeth (cool!) or the option to call forth rodents to talk to and command. No complaints here and the section does combine these in handy, preconfigured set-ups for your perusal. The pdf provides favored class options for the APG, classes, UC-classes and the magus. They generally are cool, though the barbarian-entry lacks the note that the movement speed increase does not have mechanical repercussions unless taken in increments of 5 to account for the 5-ft-focus of tactical movement.

 

The pdf features a total of 3 different archetypes, the first of which would be the Bully Slayer ranger, who specializes in bringing down Large or larger humanoids and replaces wild empathy for +1/2 class level to Intimidate checks, while also losing the size penalty. 1/day bane versus bullies and longer duration of the ability complement this one. The second archetype is the lightning rager barbarian, who modifies rage to instead grant +2 Str and Con, +4 Dex; 3rd level provides a scaling dodge bonus to AC and an insight bonus to Ref-saves. 7th level nets evasion, 13th improved evasion. Huge problem: The better rages do not follow the theme set by the base rage ability, making the archetype feel half-finished. Not something a GM can’t fix, but still. The third archetype would be the Sewer druid, who replaces woodland stride with skill bonuses, movement through difficult terrain in sewers instead of trackless step and iron stomach as well as disease immunity. Wild shape is gained later, at 6th level and at -2 druid levels…oh, and they may assume otyugh and ooze-forms.

 

The pdf offers a total of 12 racial feats for wererats. These feats include 1/day rerolls due to danger sense, skilled disappearing in crowds, improving the summon tricks to include swarms, bleed to bites, a swim speed and some unique tricks via a 3-feat Style-chain: For example, when targeted by a full attack and missed by all attacks, you can retaliate with a combat maneuver to render the foe fatigued. The problem is that this feat does not specify an activation action – I assume it just happens when the foe misses you, but I’m not sure. Gaining the benefits of being Small is possible and the pdf also has a means to use next a 5-foot-step to avoid attacks, which is cool. Somewhat odd – the feat makes clear that the character can’t use a 5-foot step in the round following its use, making sure that you basically borrow next round’s 5-foot-step, but what about regular movement? I *assume* that’s still possible or does the evasive action count as next round’s 5-foot step and thus eliminates other movement? This pdf does not contain Bite Me!’s Hybrid and Primal Shape feats, so if you’re looking for these, you’ll need supplemental material.

 

The pdf also covers items – a total of 4 mundane items is included, featuring rat scent, rat-calling pipes, slick that helps staying out of the grasp of foes and air sweetener to avoid diseases. The pdf also features a new special weapon quality, which, at +1, increases hide and miss chances AND maintains invisibility for the attacker…which is insane and totally underpriced, particularly since it can be applied to ranged weapons. A helm that facilitates rodent communication and nets a diseased bite attack (properly codified as primary) and a rat saddle are okay, as are lenses that can store light they then may emit as fiery rays. The one item that *really* is cool among the magical ones would be oil that slims targets passing through squares treated with it, allowing thieves and scoundrels to escape through impossibly thin cracks – very cool.

 

The pdf features a rodent subdomain that allows the user to gain increased speed and a bonus to Stealth 3+Wis-mod times per day. The pdf also features a total of 5 new spells: Close Quarters is intriguing: It allows you and another Medium or smaller ally to occupy the same square and count as flanking foes if you attack the same target, which is incredibly useful for sneak attack. That being said, the spell assumes that you move into an adjacent square when it ends – but what if there is no room? Also, at level 1 bard, inqui and ranger, this spell is pretty strong, though the restriction to the “tricky” classes keeps is still in the “potentially VERY problematic” rather than the “broken” field. Using crowd stride to teleport through crowds is pretty cool and gnaw anything lets you ignore significant amounts of hardness with a selected natural weapon. Growing creatures in a swarm to twice their size is cool and there is a spell-option to increase the deadliness of diseases and poisons.

 

The pdf concludes with two sample characters with extensive backgrounds, motivations and schemes to incorporate them in your game – Suilin Hinatoi, a CR 11 monk/ninja and Merrick, a CR 9 sewer druid – both of the characters come with stats for humanoid and beast shape. As for the flavor of wererats as presented here, I don’t have significant complaints this time around – the social nature and predilection to guild structures, warrens and use of rodents as pets make sense and utilize the established material well.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, though on a rules-level, there are some minor hiccups. Layout adheres to Misfit Studios’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version: Kudos!! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with an array of gorgeous full-color original pieces in Jacob Blackmon’s signature style. Particularly the rat-toothed humanoid shape getting ready to gnaw through a rope is awesome.

 

Robert H. Hudson Jr. and Mike Welham’s wererats rank among the better offerings in the wererat series. While there is some material to nitpicking the details, as a whole, there are some gems to be found in the squeezing and crowd-maneuvering component. Power-level-wise, the wererat is one of my favorites among the individual lycanthrope-race pdfs in the series. That being said, the hiccup in the barbarian is not too cool and the other archetypes didn’t really wow me either – I’ve frankly seen the concepts done in more complex and detailed ways. Usually, the items are a highlight in these and the same holds true here – there is some magic to be found…though the book oversteps balance-wise its boundaries here and there.

 

Staying invisible while attacking sans requiring a the improved version is very strong and in the hands of the right build, can be devastating. Similarly, two capable sneakers occupying the same space can make for a true shredder with the right build. This does not make the options broken, mind you – it just is a symptom of an impression of this pdf, namely that it could have used a slightly more delicate touch requiring some of the repercussions of its effects. These do not have to come up, mind you…but they may. In spite of the gems herein and me liking quite a bit of what I can see here, I hence have to rate this 3.5 stars, rounded down – a mixed bag slightly on the positive side.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 172016
 

New Paths: The Trickster (Second Revision)

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This second revised installment of the New Paths-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This pdf was moved up in my review-queue at the request of my players.

 

The trickster class presented herein receives d8 HD, a now reduced 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons plus rapier, longsword, sap, short sword, shortbow, whip light armor and shields (excluding tower shields) and may freely cast spells while only wearing light armor and/or using a shield. The class receives 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Ref- and Will-saves and gains spellcasting.

 

Spellcasting of the trickster is slightly more tricky (I’ll punch myself later for that one) than you’d expect: The trickster’s spellcasting is governed by Intelligence and thus is prepared according to convention. However, spells prepared are not expended upon being cast – instead, the spell slot of the appropriate level is expended. Metamagic is handled as for sorcerors and similar spontaneous casting classes. High Intelligence influences the number of spells a trickster can cast, but not the amount of spell-slots he has – this is pretty important for balance, so bear that in mind. So, in summary, we have an actually working blend of prepared and spontaneous casting here for a surprisingly unique take on the old vancian system. And yes, concise rules for cantrips gained (often overlooked) and spellbooks (ditto!) are part of the deal here. This section is rather elegant – kudos here! Tricksters begin play with 4 cantrips known and 2 1st level spells and increase that up to 6 for each spell level, barring 5th and 6th, which cap at 5. 5 is also the maximum spells per day limit. Akin to the alchemist and similar classes, spellcasting caps at spell level 6.

 

The trickster also receives access to sneak attack and begins play with +1d6, increasing this by +1d6 at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Similarly, at first level, the trickster gains trapfinding. So far, so rogue-y, right?

 

Well, second level becomes a bit more unique, as the trickster gains a forte on which to focus, of which 4 are provided. Structure-wise, the fortes provide immediate benefits and unlock new abilities at 5th and 9th level. The first would be Acrobat, which not only provides skill-bonuses to movement-related skills and eliminates the need for running starts to get the associated bonus. Additional movement while not carrying heavy load or the like and no armor check penalty for Dex-based skills can also be found here. At 5th level, the trickster gains a scaling bonus to AC and CMD and may also act as though under freedom of movement for trickster level round per day, but only for movement purposes. The 9th level ability has been similarly redesigned – provided the trickster has at least 10 ft., he can dimension door as part of the move action expended, but, in a unique twist, the total distance he can thus travel is limited and capped with a daily max.

The second forte is arcane accomplice, which nets a familiar, though the familiar receives Disable Device and Sleight of Hand as class skills and can deal sneak attack as long as it’s within 30 ft. of the trickster – and yes, this means you can basically double-team on your own, greatly increasing the validity of sneak attack, though, for balance’s sake, a familiar’s sneak attack uses d4s, which proved mathematically feasible in my tests. 5th level goes one step further and nets the familiar all teamwork feats of the trickster as well as AC +2, while 9th level provides basically spring attack for the familiar, but only with regards to delivering harmless touch attacks – and yes, this is more versatile than you’d think.

 

The third forte is Beguile and provides +1 to DCs and +1 to rolls to overcome SR, scaling by +1 at 5th and 9th level – but only when targeting creatures that would be denied their Dexterity-modifier or that are helpless. At 5th level, when successfully feinting, the target would be denied his Dex-mod to AC for the next melee attack or spell targeting by the trickster, but only when performed on or before his next turn. 9th level decreases the required action to feint to a move action, a swift action if the trickster has Improved Feint.

 

The fourth forte is Spell Pilfer, which is easily the most unique of the fortes: As an immediate action, the trickster can make a Spellcraft check (DC 15 + spell level) to identify the spell and, if successful, the trickster may attempt to pilfer the spell. The caster receives a Will-save versus 10 + 1/2 trickster class level + Int-mod to negate the attempt. If the caster fails, he loses access to the spell known or prepared spell, while the trickster temporarily (1/2 class levels, minimum 1) adds the spell to his list of spells known. While the spell is pilfered, the original caster may not cast it, but the trickster may, provided he has an available spell slot. Only one spell (again, VERY important for balance) can be pilfered at a given time – pilfering a second spell, the previous spell immediately reverts to the owner. This ability can be used 3 + Intelligence mod times per day. It should be noted that tricksters can only pilfer spells they can cast, another VERY important limitation. Now you may have noted that Will-saves are pretty easy for most casters – thus, at 5th level, the trickster’s Wisdom modifier is also added to the DC to resist the pilfer attempt. I am usually fiercely opposed to dual attribute-mods to anything, but considering that Wis is NOT a trickster’s crucial stat in any way, in practice, this is not problematic. 9th level allows the trickster to pilfer spells above his casting capacity, but thankfully with the caveat that the trickster can’t cast such spells – so no abuse possible. This is a very impressive ability in my book, since it makes spell theft work sans holes in the wording, sans abuse. Love it!

 

The new, fifth forte would be shadow, which nets a +2 insight bonus on Stealth checks in dim light or less and it also nets low-light vision and darkvision 30 ft. (Or +30 ft., if the trickster already has darkvision.) 5th level nets something unique – the option to 3* Int-mod times per day animate shadows of targets to attack them (cool). Shadow and darkness spells are cast at CL +1. At 9th level, the trickster can basically hide in plain sight while within 10 feet of a shadow other than his own and at that level, the shadow may use the trickster’s sneak attack, which is a pretty cool revision. The revision of the shadow forte is more intriguing and unique. Kudos for making it more interesting.

 

Starting at 3rd level the trickster adds +1 competence bonus to Bluff, Disguise, Escape Artist, Sleight of Hand or Stealth, increasing the bonus by +1 every third level, though the new bonuses gained may be freely distributed among aforementioned spells. 3rd level also nets evasion and 6th, 12th and 18th level provides bonus feats from a limited list. 8th level provides uncanny dodge, 11th improved uncanny dodge.

 

At the level, as a standard action, the trickster can cast a spell with a range of touch and deliver it as part of a melee attack, with the restriction of only working in conjunction with spells that have a casting time of 1 standard action or less. If the trickster hits, he also deals sneak attack damage in conjunction with the touch spell. Important: Misses mean the spell is lost, not held! This, combined with 3/4 BAB, is an important balancing mechanism…At least until high levels, for at 17th level, it is no longer lost – as a minor nitpick, while it is clear from the wording, it would have been nice to see the class explicitly specify that the trickster can hold only one sneakspell charge to avoid stacking them up.

Spells thus delivered may also not be enhanced by metamagic and, have a crit mod of x2. 9th level provides ranged legerdemain, though the ability is thankfully MORE precise than that of the arcane trickster PrC, specifying how far you can propel stolen objects and increasing the required skill ranks to 5. At 14th level, the trickster receives Filch Spell, which allows the trickster to hijack spells requiring direction (flaming spheres etc.) as a move action 3+Inttelligence modifier times per day. 15th level provides Surprise spells – but unlike the imprecise original take on the ability, this one clarifies from the get-go how it works with magic missiles or AoE-spells. As a capstone, the trickster treats all sneak attack damage 1s and 2s as 3s and automatically confirms all crits when using sneak attack. Additionally, the trickster may add metamagic to sneakspells sans increasing the casting time.

 

It should be noted that the trickster, still exceedingly powerful, now has a suggestion to decrease the power of the class: The suggestion is to eliminate necromancy and evocation from the spells they can cast. While this may be a sound idea and a quick and dirty elimination of the blasting capabilities of the trickster, it only marginally addresses the issue of power – an alternate, more conservative spell-progression would have been a more prudent solution in my book and maintained the universality of character concepts one can realize – instead of restricting the options, reducing the resources available, especially considering the strong framework of the class, would have made sense to me.

 

The previously horribly broken archetype has been completely redesigned and basically been split into two mutually exclusive archetypes both of which feature diminished spellcasting to 4th level. The first of these would be the Dual-Forte master, who gains a second forte at 6th level. He is treated as -4 levels for this forte, .2 levels at 11th and use full level for the second forte at 20th level. Feat-exchanges further balance the archetype. The second archetype would be the forte master, who gains a further upgrade for the forte chosen – one ability is gained at 11th and at 14th level, with the respective abilities depending on the forte chosen. Acrobats can inflict sneak attack when moving more than 10 feet and maintain actions after using dimension door. Arcane Accomplices increase familiar potency and may teleport them to an adjacent square 1/day as a swift action. Beguilers get enchantment tricks, shadow masters darkness-related tricks that blend the dark with nice tricks and spell pilferers may now steal divine spells as well. And yes, these significantly powerful upgrades are further balanced by 2 lost feats in addition to the spellcasting

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch and precise, I noticed but one minor fringe case; other than that – all around precise and well done in both formal and rules-language departments. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports multiple gorgeous pieces of original art. The pdf comes with bookmarks in spite of its brevity – nice.

 

Marc Radle’s trickster is interesting – it is a testament to how much we love the concept of a rogue-y character that the by now pretty broken (as in: too weak) base class continues to see truly excellent takes on the trope. Regarding customization options, both the talented rogue and in particularly, Legendary Games’ absolutely brilliant Legendary Rogues-book provided options for the “mundane” rogue that retain their viability in the system. Why “retain”? Well, simple: You see, the rogue has been pretty much a casualty to changing design-paradigms in PFRPG – when the core-rules were releases, the value of a rogue talent was obviously set to about a feat or less, while later classes have increased the value of class-specific options – compare alchemist discoveries and rogue talents if you need proof of that…or look at the ninja’s framework and unique tricks and you’ll notice the paradigm-shift.

 

The trickster, however, is not a simple rogue redesign – it could be summed up as a magus/rogue-hybrid, but that does not do the class justice: Instead of cobbling together two classes, the trickster is a completely unique class. Let me sum up the unique benefits here: The trickster streamlines problematic arcane trickster class features, has a unique spellcasting-blend that plays different from standard classes while being easy to understand and it provides a balanced, strong means to represent the sneak attack double team as well as, most importantly, creating the AWESOME spell pilfer mechanic.

 

Where am I going with this history lesson/comparison? Well, the trickster is stronger than the vanilla rogue – no doubt. It frankly SHOULD be – there are three classes that need versatility/power-upgrades: Rogue, monk and (versatility-wise/unique class feature-wise) fighter. The trickster is stronger than the rogue can deliver solid damage – much like a magus, this class is a glass cannon, though one that also is a rather good face/skill-monkey. Personally, I very much welcome the decrease in skills per level, though this in no way decreases the potency of the class.

 

Here’s what I really like here: Marc Radle has actually listened to the feedback of the first revision and improved the file significantly. The new archetypes are balanced and do fun things and the totality of the trickster can now truly be called a great little class. The second revisions improvements catapult this to the rating-echelon of 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this class here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.